Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen speaks in support of State Sen. Tom Brewer's proposal to allow concealed carry of handguns without a permit or training on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Maine draws a line in the Sandhills: Will match Nebraska on winner-take-all

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Nebraska Examiner | by Aaron Sanderford | April 27, 2024

Source: Maine draws a line in the Sandhills: Will match Nebraska on winner-take-all • Nebraska Examiner Summary:

  • Nebraska contemplates altering its electoral vote system, with potential repercussions for Trump’s advantage, countered by Maine’s readiness to nullify any change.
  • Pressure from Trump supporters and political analysts weighs in on the potential impact of the proposed alteration.
  • Maine emphasizes the value of its split electoral vote system, promoting fairness and competition in elections.

OMAHA — If red-led Nebraska holds a special session this summer and decides to award its five Electoral College votes to the statewide winner of the presidential vote, then blue-led Maine will match it, canceling any advantage for former President Donald Trump.

Maine House Majority Leader Maureen Terry issued a statement Friday saying that local voters “value their independence, but they also value fairness and playing by the rules.” She said Maine would not let others game the system.

 Maine House Majority Leader Maureen Terry (Courtesy of the Maine Legislature)

“If Nebraska’s Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature were to change their electoral system this late in the cycle in order to unfairly award Donald Trump an additional electoral vote, I think the Maine Legislature would be compelled to act,” she said in a statement she confirmed to the Examiner.

Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that split some of their electoral votes for president. They award a single electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district and send the remaining votes to the statewide winner.

Special session update

Cornhusker State Gov. Jim Pillen said he would call a special session if state lawmakers could find the 33 votes needed to overcome a filibuster or the 30 votes needed to suspend legislative rules and pass the change with fewer votes.

 National populist pundit Charlie Kirk tells a Nebraska crowd that Gov. Jim Pillen’s office has told him the governor will call a special session to pass winner-take-all for presidential races if they can help him get the votes. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Pillen and other Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Unicameral Legislature have faced outside pressure from Trump supporters to make the change, including from populist conservative talk show host Charlie Kirk, known for his political group Turning Point USA. 

Kirk argued during a recent rally in Omaha that allowing the 2nd District a chance to vote Democratic could tilt the election from Trump to Biden. He urged his supporters to call and write to their state senators and call for the change.

Trump himself lobbied at least one Nebraska lawmaker for winner-take-all, State Sen. Tom Brewer, who represents north-central Nebraska, although Trump’s campaign denied it. 

Senators’ office phones and emails lit up, overwhelming staff.

Don’t have the votes

One Republican senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the measure does not have “anywhere close to 33 votes” to pass and said the outside pressure was costing the measure votes. Speaker John Arch had no immediate comment.

 State Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City. Feb. 13, 2024. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

State Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City, the sponsor of this year’s winner-take-all proposal, Legislative Bill 764, said he does not yet know if a special session on that issue will happen. He said he hopes to hear something next week.

“We have to wait and see if Governor Pillen wants to address Winner Take All in a special session,” he said.

Pillen’s office had no update on a possible special session.

Lippincott said supporters of winner-take-all in Nebraska want to make the change regardless of what Maine does. Republican supporters of switching have argued that it dilutes Nebraska’s influence nationally and should be standardized.

Some argue current system more fair

Others, including Democrats in the Legislature, have argued that the unusual way Nebraska and Maine award electoral votes ensures that at least one part of Nebraska gets more attention from presidential candidates and campaigns than it otherwise would.

 Former U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City. (Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images)

Statewide, Nebraska has voted Republican in every presidential election since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District has swung to Democrats twice, in 2008 for President Barack Obama and in 2020 for President Joe Biden.

Maine has similarly voted Democratic since 1988, when part-time Kennebunkport resident George H.W. Bush won the state and its four electoral votes. But Maine’s rural 2nd District sent an electoral vote to Republicans in 2016 and 2020.

The Nebraska Republican Party has supported moving back to winner-take-all since the idea passed in 1991. The new populist party leadership had no immediate comment, but it has been vocal in its support of Trump and hopeful of helping his campaign.

 President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb said Nebraska remains “proud of our split electoral vote system that brings fairness and competition to the state.”

“Trump and his online bullies failed to change our system this year, and even if they got their way Maine would make that move null and void,” she said in response to a reporter’s question. “So how about we all compete at the doors to win over voters rather than change the rules this close to an election?”

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