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Nebraska lawmakers overwhelmingly reject Trump-backed ‘winner-take-all’ electoral system

An attempt to change Nebraska to a “winner-take-all” Electoral College system failed a key procedural vote late Wednesday, despite support by former President Trump, Gov. Jim Pillen (R-Neb.) and Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.).

Switching Nebraska’s Electoral College vote distribution in the Republican-dominated state would bring it in line with much of the rest of the country and could net Trump an extra vote this November, though an attempt to attach the bill to an unrelated measure as an amendment on Wednesday failed by a significant margin.

State Sen. Julie Slama (R) led the amendment push, arguing on the floor that it was the best shot for the bill to pass this legislative session, which ends April 18. Just eight of the needed 23 legislators backed the vote.

On the floor, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (D) argued that the GOP was trying to slip a partisan bill into unrelated work.

“Democracy is on the line!” she said, the Lincoln Journal Star reported

“I want to throw up. And I want to go to bed. But I can’t because I don’t trust you,” she added, referring to her Republican colleagues.

Slama said after the vote that the prospects for the bill, which conservative activists said was likely to pass, aren’t as bright as they once seemed.

“The ‘filibuster-proof’ majority doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to make Nebraska a Winner-Take-All state in an election year,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Wild.”

Sen. Loren Lippincott (R), who sponsored the bill, admitted after Wednesday’s vote that there is not enough support to avoid a Democratic-led filibuster, needing 33 votes.

Only Nebraska and Maine assign Electoral College votes by district. In most presidential elections, Republicans take two and Democrats take one of Nebraska’s districts, though the third is tightly contested. The state’s remaining two electoral votes are given to its popular vote winner, generally the Republican candidate.

If the bill were to go into effect for the 2024 election, it could cost President Biden an Electoral College vote. Trump won about 58 percent of the vote in Nebraska in 2020, meaning the GOP candidate would get the state’s entire slate of electoral votes in a winner-take-all system.

The effort received a trio of late high-profile endorsements from Pillen, Trump and Ricketts in addition to a grassroots activist push led by right-wing political commentator Charlie Kirk.

Pillen made a late endorsement for the winner-take-all bill on Monday, arguing that the measure would bring Nebraska in line with the rest of the country and represent “what the founders intended.” 

Trump lauded Pillen for the endorsement the next day.

“Governor Jim Pillen of Nebraska, a very smart and popular Governor, who has done some really great things, came out today with a very strong letter in support of returning Nebraska’s Electoral Votes to a Winner-Take-All System,” Trump said Tuesday in a Truth Social post. 

“Most Nebraskans have wanted to go back to this system for a very long time, because it’s what 48 other States do — It’s what the Founders intended, and it’s right for Nebraska,” he continued. “Thank you Governor for your bold leadership. Let’s hope the Senate does the right thing. Nebraskans, respectfully ask your Senators to support this Great Bill!

Ricketts added support for the measure after proponents claimed they had assured enough votes to pass. State Sen. Mike McDonnell (R) switched parties from Democrat to Republican on Wednesday, giving the GOP a two-thirds majority in the unicameral legislature.

The effort was supported by the Nebraska Freedom Coalition, a conservative activist group, which traded barbs with lawmakers after Wednesday’s vote.

When it became clear that the measure would not pass, Slama accused the group of not doing enough to back the effort, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

“If you’re gonna tweet out an issue, if you’re gonna put out press releases on an issue and try to pressure the Legislature to do something — maybe when the concept actually comes up and people are voting on it, maybe y’all should do the work,” she said. “Maybe y’all should do the work in the committee hearings when the bill is actually introduced. Rather than firing off a tweet and a press release with five days in the session left.” 

The Nebraska Freedom Coalition railed against Slama and other state legislators after the vote, calling for a complete upheaval of party leadership after the failure.

“Maybe just maybe Sen. Slama, it’s not our job to do your job,” the group said in a direct response to the legislator’s comments. “We are everyday citizens with actual jobs and lives. We are not silver spoon appointed establishment wonks who have never experienced a day of real work.” 

“God forbid a tweet wakes up a bunch of Senators to do their jobs!” it continued. “Sorry you missed an appointment with your hair stylist because we pushed for a change that you say you overwhelmingly support.”

Nebraska GOP Chair Eric Underwood pinned blame on the national GOP after the vote failed, saying the Republican National Committee refused to use its resources to help the effort.

“I went to the RNC last year, I met with [former Chair] Ronna McDaniel and said, ‘I think this is something that could happen, but I need outside help,” he told Kirk in an interview. “I was basically told that it wasn’t much of an importance.”

Biden’s easiest path to victory is generally considered to be a sweep of “blue wall” states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — plus a single Nebraska vote from Omaha’s electoral district to reach the needed 270 electoral votes.

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