Nebraska legislators confronted with pressure to alter electoral vote system amid influence from Trump

Nebraska legislators confronted with pressure to alter electoral vote system amid influence from Trump

Nebraska state lawmakers are confronting a late push to change the unusual way the state awards electoral votes after former president Donald Trump and his allies came out in support of a languishing proposal that could boost Trump’s chances of prevailing nationally in the electoral college in a very close race.

Nebraska is one of only two states that divides its electoral votes among statewide and congressional district winners, which allowed Joe Biden to pick off an electoral vote in the red state in 2020 by carrying a swing district in the Omaha area. But Gov. Jim Pillen (R) and Trump on Tuesday endorsed a proposal to return the state to a winner-take-all system, possibly upending the final days of the state’s legislative session, which ends April 18.

Nebraska state Sen. John Cavanaugh (D), who represents Omaha, said Democrats are “on the lookout” and preparing for a bill to be attached to “any particular vehicle,” while preparing to put up “procedural bars” and a possible filibuster.

The sponsor of the proposal has said he does not have the votes to overcome a filibuster, but Trump’s 11th-hour intervention has raised speculation that Republicans could regroup.

“Ultimately the Nebraska legislature does not legislate in response to tweets from anyone,” Cavanaugh said. Democrats, he added, are “firmly in support of maintaining the division of the electoral vote. It is part of what makes Nebraska special.”

The bill’s sponsor, Nebraska state Sen. Loren Lippincott (R), noted in a statement that there are only six “working days” left in the session and two days left for bills to be scheduled for floor consideration.

“My staff and I are doing everything we can to seek options for getting this to the finish line,” Lippincott said. “However, the harsh reality of a 2-day time frame is limiting.”

The one electoral vote in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District has become increasingly important for Democrats as they can no longer rely on the “blue wall” trifecta of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, after recent redistricting reduced those states’ weight in the electoral college. Maine is the only other state that does not award all of its electoral votes to the winner of the statewide vote.

Trump’s endorsement of the proposal came hours after a prominent ally, Charlie Kirk, rallied his large social media following to pressure Pillen and state lawmakers to advance the legislation. Pillen issued a statement of support within hours.

The Trump campaign had looked into the possibility of a late legislative push weeks ago and concluded that there were significant obstacles, according to a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal campaign efforts. But Trump decided Tuesday night after an event in Wisconsin to push hard for a shift, after he saw the statement from the governor, which appeared to have been prompted by Kirk’s social media posts.

Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, with 49 lawmakers, referred to as senators, serving in one chamber that is officially nonpartisan. While registered Republicans hold a majority, it was not filibuster-proof as of Tuesday.

There were 16 Democrats and an independent member from Omaha, Megan Hunt, who was previously a Democrat. Thirty-three votes are needed to break a filibuster, so if all 16 Democrats and Hunt stuck together, they could form a firewall against legislation they opposed.

The legislature saw a shake-up Wednesday when a Democratic member, Mike McDonnell, announced he was switching to the GOP, breaking the Democrats’ firewall. But McDonnell told Politico he would continue opposing any proposed changes to the electoral-vote system.

McDonnell’s switch nonetheless buoyed GOP hopes for the Trump-backed proposal. U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) said in a statement that the timing of the party switch is “an awesome opportunity to mobilize our Republican majority to a winner-take-all system.”

Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said Wednesday morning that Democrats believed passing the vote was “unrealistic” at this point but are closely monitoring the situation.

“Charlie Kirk is obviously not an idiot and sent out that tweet for a reason,” Kleeb said. “We’re on guard. We’re shoring up our 17 votes.”

Even then, it is not clear that all Republicans want to prioritize the bill, which had languished in committee and was assumed dead until Tuesday.

“Until yesterday, this wasn’t a discussion at all, and then suddenly it blew up, and several of our legislators that are process-oriented will take a skeptical line,” said Gavin Geis, the executive director of Common Cause Nebraska.

Kirk, the founder and CEO of Turning Point USA, on Tuesday morning urged his nearly 3 million followers on X to call Pillen and state lawmakers to urge support for the proposal. Kirk asked Nebraskans to “demand their state stop pointlessly giving strength to their political enemies.”

Within hours, Pillen released a statement saying he is a “strong supporter” of the bill and has “been from the start.” He called on Republicans in the legislature to send it to his desk.

Trump quickly reacted on his Truth Social platform, sharing Pillen’s statement and calling it a “very smart letter.” In a longer second post, Trump thanked Pillen for his “bold leadership” and said he hopes the legislature “does the right thing,” urging Nebraskans to call their representatives.

Kirk has scheduled a rally Tuesday in Omaha to continue pushing for the change.

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