Nebraska, like Maine, splits Electoral College votes and starts redistribution fight


LINCOLN, Nebraska – A new political map proposed by Republicans in Nebraska would not only make it harder for Democrats to win one of three seats in the State House – it would make it a bit harder for Democrats to win the White House.

Nebraska is one of only two states to divide its constituency votes by congressional district, rather than by a win-win system. This allowed President Joe Biden to claim one of the state’s five electoral votes last year, even though he lost Nebraska by 20 percentage points.

Now, Republicans in the Nebraska Legislature are proposing to divide the 2nd Congressional District, the one Biden won, in their new map. The change would make the swingy neighborhood surrounding Omaha, the state’s largest city, more Republican. It would also make it more difficult for a Democratic presidential candidate to win.

Winning the presidency has not been reduced to a single electoral vote since the early years of the United States. Yet each of the nation’s 538 electoral votes is valuable. That single Electoral College vote – sometimes dubbed the “blue dot” in the state’s Red Sea – was enough to make Omaha a regular stop on the Democratic presidential campaign circuit.

The GOP card was approved in a party line committee vote in the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday and will move to the floor of the one-chamber legislature, which is officially non-partisan, albeit Republican-controlled. Democrats oppose the cards and the GOP does not have enough lawmakers to overcome an obstruction, making the final cards likely to be some kind of compromise.

Critics say the current proposal could effectively overturn Democrat-backed 1991 legislation that split the state’s Electoral College votes. Under the current system, the winner of each of the three constituencies gets an electoral vote. The two additional Electoral College votes that the state obtains, one for each of its senators, go to the general winner of the state.

“There’s no question the Republicans would love to win there, and they’re doing what they think is necessary to do it,” said former State Senator Bob Krist, a Republican turned Democrat who worked with GOP lawmakers during the last redistribution ten years ago.

Republicans say they’re not trying to mess with the Electoral College. But they made no secret of their dissatisfaction with the Nebraska arrangement.

“Democrats knew exactly what they were doing,” said Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party. “They hid behind this noble populist rhetoric, and it benefited them. The reality is they want this electoral vote, and we want it too. “

Barack Obama visited – and won District 2 – in 2008. Hillary Clinton landed in 2016 but didn’t win. Joe Biden sent staff to Omaha, visited and won the district last year, and the extra vote gave him another path to the 270 votes he needed to become president – if he hadn’t. could not win the good number of other states of the battlefield. It remains a politically competitive area, fairly balanced between the two parties and represented in Congress by a Republican, Don Bacon.

The new map would cut off the western edge of Omaha and place it in the 1st Congressional District, which relies heavily on Republicans as most is rural farmland with several more conservative towns. These voters would be replaced by the suburban and rural areas to the west which are significantly more Republican.

If the Democrats lose their chance at the “blue dot” in Nebraska, it is possible that they will improve their chances of landing another one. The only other state that reliably divides its electoral votes by congressional district is Democratic Maine, whose sprawling 2nd rural congressional district was won by Trump last year.

On Thursday night, Democrats in Maine, who control the state legislature, released a proposal to move the state capital of Augusta and a strongly Democratic town from Hallowell to the 2nd Congressional District. This could make the district a bit more democratic, although both parties were still analyzing the plan.

Despite the partisan overtones, the biggest objections to Nebraska’s Republican plans have come from Omaha residents and supporters who say the GOP shouldn’t divide a city.

“When you see these proposals that divide communities, that divide counties, it’s going to raise a lot of red flags,” said Danielle Conrad of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

Notably, the Republican proposal leaves intact the African-American neighborhood of northern Omaha and a strongly Latin part of southern Omaha. But Preston Love, chairman of Black Votes Matter, a group based in northern Omaha, compared the Republican plan to divide the city to a tangible legacy of African-American powerlessness – the highway through northern Omaha. .

“This,” Love said of the proposal to divide his town, “is an electoral highway.”

State Senator Lou Ann Linehan, the sponsor of the Republican proposal, said she was not trying to change the presidential election. The growth of Omaha and its suburbs simply requires the area to be spread over several congressional districts.

The GOP map “does not eliminate a blue dot, nor does it guarantee it,” Linehan said. “The blue dot depends more on the presidential candidates than on the Congress card. “

In a legislative hearing Thursday, residents of Omaha complained about their city’s split. Carmen Bunde, a West Omaha real estate agent whose home would move to the 1st Congressional District as part of the GOP plan, said she sees herself as “a proud Omahan” who wishes to stay in the 2nd. district. Bunde said her sister lives in Wahoo, a small farming town in the 1st District about 30 miles from where she lives, and their lives are very different.

“We don’t have the same school district or the same legislative concerns,” Bunde said. “It doesn’t make sense that we are grouped together. I am a proud Omahan, and Omaha is where I live, play, worship, and work.

Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle contributed from Portland, Maine.

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