Nebraska's Pesky Extra Electoral Vote To unify or not to unify?

by Paul Fidalgo // Published January 8, 2010

Nebraska State Senator Beau McCoy has introduced legislation to bring unity to his state. No, not by building bridges and roads and other infrastructure, nor in the sense of a coming-together of minds and intentions. Rather, Sen. McCoy is angling to retrieve something very special that many Republicans feel belongs to them: An electoral vote.

You see, Nebraska, like Maine, splits its electoral votes between its three congressional districts, and award the last two to the winner of the statewide popular vote. All other states simply hand every electoral vote as a block to their respective popular vote winners. Normally, this little oddity among states doesn't materialize into anything; the same presidential candidate usually wins in each district. But in 2008, Barack Obama helped the state buck tradition, and won one electoral vote from the district that contains Omaha, Nebraska's biggest population center. The rest all went to John McCain.

McCoy's bill would rope that Omaha electoral vote back into place so that the presumably-Republican-for-the-foreseeable-future presidential candidate is never again in danger of losing it to a rival. It would also make Nebraska like every other state in terms of the Electoral College, leaving only Maine to stick out electorally as well as geographically.

So what's the right way to go on the question of Nebraskan Electoral Vote Unity (or NEVU, as I just decided to call it)? Yea or nay?

It's a tough call, because both approaches are wrong. The normal Electoral College system already ensures that the vast majority of Americans don't matter in choosing the president, and by rejoining the ranks of the conventional, Nebraska would be in no better position, easily written off as a Republican stronghold. As of now, only the Omaha vote is "swingy" enough to warrant any campaign attention, and even that's a new phenomenon.

But the congressional district method of allocating electoral votes is an even worse way of electing the president. It's hard to see why this is so when two relatively small states are the only ones who use it. But it wasn't so long ago that frustrated Republicans in California and embittered Democrats in North Carolina had tried to change their states to the Nebraska-like system. FairVote research from the time showed very clearly that the congressional district method actually distorts the results worse than the system as it is now. If you don't like a handful of swing states having exclusive rights to political relevance, wait until that's whittled down to a thimbleful of swing districts. An even tinier pool of voters would have all the power to elect the president, with most districts being utterly predictable, and with the final electoral vote result being even more out of whack with the popular vote.

So, to solve the NEVU problem, I humbly suggest that Nebraska reject both paths, and instead become the next state to sign on to the National Popular Vote plan, and help ensure that every vote for president counts exactly the same no matter where it is cast; in big states and little states, in rural and urban areas, in coastal states and flyovers, every vote would be equal.

That's the kind of unity we ought to be working toward.