Nebraska GOP pushing electoral reform

Nebraska Republicans are pushing hard to eliminate the state's system of awarding presidential electoral votes by congressional district.

State Sen. Beau McCoy (R) has introduced a bill to revert Nebraska's current system to a winner-take-all allocation. On Friday, the legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee announced it would take up McCoy's bill Feb. 23.

Republicans hold a five-four majority on the committee. The state GOP has been gently pressuring its members to move the bill on to floor vote, where officials are confident it will pass because the party enjoys its largest majority in 25 years.

To that end, the state GOP has provided activists with templates for writing letters to newspaper editorial boards and state lawmakers encouraging passage of the bill. And state GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson said at the party's annual meeting last month that he intends to "hold our Republican state senators accountable" for their votes on the bill.

GOP officials said they are conscious of treading on sensitive ground, lobbying state lawmakers who traditionally operate in a nonpartisan atmosphere.

"There's historically been some sensitivity to either party weighing in on issues in the Legislature," Jordan McGrain, executive director of the Nebraska GOP, told The Ballot Box. "We really pick our spots, and this has been something too important to sit on the sidelines."

McGrain brushed off the Democrats' suggestion that the move is motivated by "sour grapes" over President Obama winning the state's 2nd congressional district in 2008. "We just want to do it the way the other 48 states do it," he said of the Electoral College reform. "It remains a partisan issue."

Still, McCoy told the Lincoln Journal Star in January: "We would not want to see Obama reelected (in 2012) by one electoral vote in Omaha."

There's been speculation that if lawmakers do away with the current system, it could hurt the reelection chances of Sen. Ben Nelson and other Democrats running statewide. It could also have a small effect on the 2012 presidential race. Obama's campaign in 2008 invested heavily in the Omaha region, driving up Democratic turnout.

The Nebraska legislature has twice before passed bills to scrap the current system, but Nelson, who was governor at the time, vetoed both measures. The current governor, Dave Heineman, is a Republican.

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