Omaha’s 2nd Congressional District turned heads nationally and internationally in 2008 when voters there bucked the rest of the state and supported Barack Obama over John McCain.
The district again split its vote this year, providing a vital Electoral College tally for Joe Biden, and it’s been joined in the last two elections by one of the congressional districts in Maine that has broken for Donald Trump over his Democratic challengers.
As is the case with its unicameral state Legislature, Nebraska was a pioneer in good governance when it adopted a system that could split electoral votes.
Accordingly, other states should follow our lead and adopt a more democratic system that better reflects their voters.
Voices from the left have loudly called for the abolition of the Electoral College for a nationwide popular vote. Considering the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote but lost the presidency twice this century, the motive for such a move is simple. But mustering support for the required constitutional amendment – which small states fear would dilute their impact – makes it all but impossible.
Instead, the best way to get a better, more representative cross-section of the electorate is to follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine and split votes by House district. Rather than making elections all about certain states and depressing motivation among voters in the minority party, the vote-splitting system encourages more competitive and representative elections.
Introduced by former Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, the state’s current system was approved on 25-23 vote in 1991 and signed into law by then-Gov. Ben Nelson. It mirrored Maine’s approach, which was approved in 1972 and took effect in the following year’s presidential election.
Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature have unsuccessfully pushed since then – nearly succeeding in 2016 – to return Nebraska to the winner-take-all method. The reason why isn’t hard to see, as Trump beat Biden by a roughly 60-40 margin statewide in this week’s general election.
But rather than considering how Nebraska’s system is wrong, other states should remove their partisan shades and see the light – and consider adopting it to better reflect their voters.
Consider that Biden appears to have won Wisconsin by about the same votes (around 20,000) that he did in Nebraska’s 2nd District, yet he claims all 11 of the state’s electoral votes. Or that Trump could claim 100% of North Carolina's allotment despite being selected by only a plurality of its voters.
Such a seismic shift would no doubt be a huge lift for reform-minded state legislators across the country, given that elections are almost entirely state affairs. Political parties in the majority wouldn’t like to see their electoral strength weakened, and swing states seem to enjoy their outsized impact on presidential races and the result policy.
But political parties aren’t the be-all and end-all. Instead, our democracy and elections are best served when voters take ownership and feel represented in the process.
The most attainable way to do that would be to convince more states to follow the path of splitting electoral votes, one Nebraska and Maine have successfully traveled for decades.
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