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Nebraska Republicans Renew Push for ‘Winner Take All’ Electoral System

President Joe Biden talks with children and parents during the 2024 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on Monday, April 1, 2024. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
President Joe Biden talks with children and parents during the 2024 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on Monday, April 1, 2024. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

A renewed push by Nebraska Republicans to move to a “winner-take-all” system in presidential elections has raised the prospect that the 2024 contest could end in an Electoral College tie — with the House of Representatives deciding the winner.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states that divide their electoral votes according to the presidential winners of congressional districts. In 2020, Joe Biden won the eastern district around Omaha and its one vote. On Tuesday, Gov. Jim Pillen of Nebraska, a Republican, threw his support behind a GOP-led bill languishing in the state’s unicameral legislature that would end the practice.

“It would bring Nebraska in line with 48 of our fellow states, better reflect the founders’ intent, and ensure our state speaks with one unified voice in presidential elections,” Pillen wrote in a statement.

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The resurrection of the state bill was sparked this week by Charlie Kirk, the chief executive of Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump conservative advocacy group, who pressed the state legislature to move forward on social media.

Former President Donald Trump quickly endorsed the governor’s “very smart letter” on his social media site.

And for good reason. If Biden were to hold Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, but lose Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and the one Nebraska vote he took in 2020, the Electoral College would be deadlocked at 269 votes each. The House would then decide the victor, not by total votes but by the votes of each state delegation. That would almost certainly give the election to Trump.

But that Sun-Belt-sweep-plus-one scenario still might be out of reach. Democrats in the legislature expressed confidence on Tuesday that they could filibuster the measure, and the state legislative session is set to end on April 18.

Still, making matters more white-knuckled for Democrats, state Sen. Mike McDonnell announced Wednesday he was changing parties, from Democratic to Republican, after being censured for voting with Republicans on abortion and transgender issues.

Without his vote, Democrats could lose the 17 votes they need to sustain a filibuster. Jane Kleeb, the chair for the Nebraska Democratic Party, said she has assurances that McDonnell will not vote to adopt a winner-take-all system on electoral votes, but she added that she is watching closely.

Conversely, Maine, where Democrats hold the governor’s office and a majority in the legislature, could change its system to take back the electoral vote that Trump won in 2020. Biden won Maine by 9 percentage points, but Trump took a vote in the Electoral College by winning the state’s rural 2nd district.

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