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Republicans May Take Away an Electoral Vote Biden Needs Most



Nebraska Republican governor Jim Pillen backs an Electoral College heist.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a little-known fact that states are free to allocate their presidential electoral votes as they wish so long as they respect one-person, one-vote principles. Forty-eight states have chosen to stick with the traditional statewide winner-take-all approach. But two, Maine (since 1972) and Nebraska (since 1996), have given an electoral vote to the popular-vote winner in each congressional district, with the statewide winner picking up two more.

Typically Maine has been a blue state and Nebraska a red state, so there wasn’t a whole lot of fear that these eccentric jurisdictions would affect the outcome of a presidential race. But in recent memory their systems have mattered. Democratic presidential candidates have carried Nebraska’s Omaha-based Second Congressional District in 2008 and 2020. Republican presidential candidates (actually, the same candidate) have won Maine’s rural Second Congressional District in 2016 and 2020.

The symmetry of these two states with their single competitive congressional district has represented a sort of standoff, so there hasn’t been much interest in touching off a partisan arms race of variable electoral-vote systems by changing either of them (or imitating them elsewhere). Until now, that is, as NBC News reports:

Former President Donald Trump and Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen are calling on the state’s Legislature to change the way Nebraska doles out its Electoral College votes, a move that would almost certainly benefit Trump in his 2024 presidential bid….

But despite the pressure from Republican heavy hitters, the push could fall short as the legislative session draws to a close, after the previously introduced bill languished unnoticed before the sudden rush of attention.

You can blame MAGA activist and podcaster Charlie Kirk for unleashing this particular hound of hell:

Hours after Republican activist Charlie Kirk put out a call for his supporters to contact Pillen, a Republican, to support the change, the governor responded with a statement of his own reiterating support for the bill and calling on lawmakers to pass it. Shortly after, Trump lent his backing to the efforts on social media. …

Kirk said in a statement to NBC News that he has been focused on the issue “for some time.” 

“I realized two things researching for my show: There was already a bill drafted, and the legislature was still in session,” Kirk said. “So I decided to do something about it. Credit to Governor Pillen and President Trump for acting quickly.” 

Speed probably is of the essence. That’s partly because Nebraska’s unicameral legislature (technically nonpartisan, but actually Republican-controlled) is scheduled to end its regular 2024 session in a couple of weeks, and partly because a shift to a winner-take-all system for EVs could in theory trigger retaliation from the Democratic-controlled Maine legislature and that state’s Democratic governor. Ironically, the parallel development in Maine has been hostile to the Electoral College generally, as the state is one legislative vote away from becoming the 17th state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement provides that once states controlling a majority of electoral votes sign on, they will all cast their electoral votes for the national popular vote winner, essentially abolishing the Electoral College (there are some experts who believe the scheme is unconstitutional, but its promoters have states with a total of 205 already on board).

If Nebraska did take one of its EVs off the table for 2024, would it matter? Quite possibly. There’s a plausible scenario whereby Joe Biden would win the Rust Belt battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that he carried in 2020 while losing his prior grip on the Sun Belt states of Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada. Assuming Trump won everything else including the single EV from Maine he won twice before, and all of Nebraska’s votes, that would put both candidates at 269 electoral votes. An Electoral College tie would throw the presidential election to the U.S. House, where Trump would very likely win under the arcane constitutional system allocating one vote to each state’s House delegation. If, on the other hand, Biden wins the same single electoral vote from Nebraska he won in 2020, then under the same 2024 scenario, he’d be reelected.

In our deeply polarized nation holding a very high-stakes election, the decision made in Lincoln on this subject could make a mountain out of a relative molehill.

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