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Nebraska state lawmakers face Trump-fueled push to change electoral vote system

Lawmakers in Nebraska are confronting a late push to change the unusual way the state awards electoral votes after former president Donald Trump and his allies came out in support of a languishing proposal that could boost his chances of prevailing nationally in the electoral college in a very close race.

Nebraska is one of only two states that divides its 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.

State Sen. John Cavanaugh (D), who represents Omaha, said Democrats are “on the lookout” and preparing for a bill to be attached to “any particular vehicle,” while readying to put up “procedural bars” and a possible filibuster.

The sponsor of the proposal has said he does not have the votes to overcome a filibuster, but Trump’s 11th-hour intervention has raised speculation that Republicans could regroup.

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

The situation remained fluid Wednesday at the State Capitol in Lincoln. By afternoon, a GOP state senator, Julie Slama, said she would amend another bill, which is scheduled for floor debate, to include the winner-take-all proposal.

“Given the recent interest on this issue, it’s incumbent that the NE Legislature finally take a full vote,” Slama said on X. “Whether it passes or fails, we’ll get everyone on the record.”

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.

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.

There were 16 Democrats and an 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.

The legislature saw a shake-up Wednesday when a Democratic member, Mike McDonnell, announced he was switching to the GOP, breaking the Democrats’ firewall. But McDonnell told Politico he would continue opposing any proposed changes to the electoral-vote system.

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 are 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 morning 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 Tuesday in Omaha to continue pushing for the change.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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