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Nebraska lawmakers vote against Trump-fueled push to change electoral vote system

Former president Donald Trump’s push to get the Nebraska legislature to change the way it awards electoral votes faced a major setback Wednesday night, when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to prevent the change from being attached to an unrelated bill.

Nebraska is one of only two states that divide 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.

The effort was put to an early test Wednesday night when Republican state Sen. Julie Slama tried to add the winner-take-all proposal to an unrelated bill as an amendment. The chair of the legislature ruled that the amendment was not germane to the underlying bill, prompting an effort to overrule the chair.

“If you want winner-take-all in the state of Nebraska, this is your last chance, this is the last train out of the station,” Slama said before the vote. “If we can’t overrule the chair here, I can’t imagine this passing on any other bill this session.”

The vote to override needed 23 yes votes to pass, given the attendance in the chamber at the time of the vote. Only eight voted yes.

In a text message after the vote, State Sen. John Cavanaugh (D), who represents Omaha, said Republicans had few other options for trying to pass winner-take-all this session. “They could attempt again, but we have put blocking motions and amendments on anything we think they could attempt to attach it to,” he wrote in a text message.

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

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

A group focused on civic engagement in the state, Civic Nebraska, vowed to organize a November ballot initiative if the legislature “succumbs to this last-minute pressure from outside interests.”

Republicans acknowledged they had very little time to get the stand-alone proposal to the governor’s desk. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Loren Lippincott (R), noted in a statement that there are 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 two-day time frame is limiting.”

The speaker of the legislature, John Arch (R), said in a statement that the bill was “not prioritized and remains in committee.”

“I’m not able to schedule a bill that is still in committee,” he said.

Another Republican, Sen. Mike Jacobson, said Wednesday night that he supported winner-take-all but would vote against adding it to underlying legislation he supports if the amendment has the effect of preventing that legislation from passing.

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 Nebraska 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.

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.

At the start of the day Wednesday, there were 16 Democrats and a progressive 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.

Hunt spoke out fiercely against winner-take-all on the floor Wednesday night, warning Republicans that they were inviting doxing efforts by conservative activists if they even held a vote on the bill. “By having a recorded vote on this, you are going to be a target for them,” she told Republicans in the chamber.

She suggested that Trump supporters campaign harder in Nebraska if they are concerned about him losing an electoral vote. “They think he can’t do it without the one vote from Omaha,” Hunt said. “I say he should come here and earn it.”

By the end of the day, one of the Democrats, Mike McDonnell, announced he was switching to the GOP. But McDonnell told Politico and reporters at the state Capitol he would continue opposing any proposed changes to the electoral vote system and would not vote to end a filibuster on the issue.

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.”

The Trump campaign also was encouraged by McDonnell’s decision. A Trump campaign official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy said Wednesday that Nebraska Republicans “should expect to see continued efforts and pressure, because Republicans have a filibuster-proof majority” now.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said Wednesday morning that Democrats believed passing the vote was “unrealistic” at this point but were 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, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska.

A Democratic state senator, Wendy DeBoer, was more blunt.

“It would literally take a complete distortion of all our rules,” she said. “It would be incredibly unprecedented to try to make all of this happen now.”

Kirk, founder and CEO of Turning Point USA, on Tuesday 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 next Tuesday in Omaha to continue pushing for the change.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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