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Nebraska legislators buck Trump by blocking Electoral College vote change — for now

Nebraska legislators on Wednesday night blocked a late effort to change how the state allocates its Electoral College votes, despite public pressure from former President Donald Trump to shift to a winner-take-all system that would likely benefit him in the fall.

The measure fell short, 8-36, in a procedural vote. While it’s possible supporters could take another stab at advancing the proposal, there remain serious hurdles as the legislative session draws to a close, and it’s unclear whether the proposal has enough support to get across the finish line and become law.

Nebraska currently doles out three of its five electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins each of its three congressional districts. In practice, that puts the competitive 2nd District in the Omaha area in play, even though Republicans typically win the statewide vote easily.

Wednesday night’s failed attempt to change the law to award all the state’s Electoral College votes to the statewide winner leaves the fate of the proposal in doubt with a few days left in the legislative session.

State Sen. Loren Lippincott, who introduced the original winner-take-all bill, told the Nebraska Examiner that he’d make one final attempt to bring the measure up for a vote before the legislative session ends on April 18. However, it’s unclear whether there’s enough support for the change to move forward.

Lippincott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republican state Sen. Julie Slama had offered the electoral bill’s legislative text as an amendment to existing legislation, the quickest pathway to get a vote on the proposal.

But the amendment was rejected after three dozen lawmakers voted that it wasn’t relevant enough to the underlying legislation to be considered as an amendment, failing state law that requires an amendment to be “germane.” Slama was among the eight who voted that the amendment was relevant.

Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to change the state’s Electoral College allocation, failing narrowly in 2016. Lippincott introduced the latest legislative proposal last year; it received little attention until this week when GOP personality Charlie Kirk raised the issue on his podcast.

On Tuesday, Trump and Nebraska GOP Gov. Jim Pillen called on state legislators to take steps that would implement a winner-take-all system. Less than 24 hours later, the legislation, which had once seemed to be all-but-forgotten, came roaring back to life

The renewed effort also attracted attention from President Joe Biden’s campaign. Brent Comstock, a consultant who works with several elected Democrats in Nebraska and nationwide, confirmed that the Biden campaign reached out to Democrats in the state about the vote.

“Democrats in Nebraska care about the importance of the president’s agenda and want him to succeed here in [congressional district] 2 and across the state,” Comstock told NBC News. “They’re working together to make sure that happens: More jobs, access to health care [and] clean energy.”

Shortly before Wednesday night’s vote, Slama said on the floor that she could “read the writing on the wall.” She went on to blast her fellow Republicans for not supporting the measure, arguing that their vote against the “germaneness” of the amendment was a repudiation of the winner-take-all system itself. Slama also blamed them for not prioritizing the legislation when it was introduced more than a year ago and paying lip service to the proposal.

“If you’re going to tweet out on an issue, if you’re gonna put out press releases on an issue and try to pressure the legislature to do something, maybe when the concept actually comes up and people are voting on it, maybe you all should do the work,” she said.

Shortly after the vote, Slama replied to a Nebraska journalist on social media saying she didn’t believe the issue would come up for a vote again this legislative session. It’s possible that Republicans like Lippincott can make another attempt, but with just a few legislative days left in the unicameral body’s session, Republicans have warned there may not be enough time or support to overcome procedural hurdles.

Absent another shot at a vote, it’s also possible that Pillen, who has been a vocal supporter of changing to a winner-take-all system, could call a special legislative session to address the issue. But even so, Republican lawmakers have openly questioned whether the plan has enough support to overcome opposition from Democrats and independents.

Republicans have long been attempting to move to a winner-take all system in Nebraska. Proponents, like Slama, argue the current allocation diminishes the state’s political power.

“Nebraska waters down their influence when other states have not followed Nebraska’s lead when it comes to the apportionment of presidential votes,” she said on the floor Wednesday night.

But the bill’s opponents had harsh words for the legislation and for its backers.

Some blasted the effort to revive the bill, accused Republicans of taking orders from Trump and conservative activists, and hurled insults at Trump and Kirk. Others said Republicans were playing politics at the last minute, near the end of the legislative session.

“What happens at some point when Democrat votes outweigh Republican votes? Is everybody going to want to change it back?” Democratic state Sen. Jen Day asked, while defending the existing setup.

“By dividing its electoral votes, Nebraska forces candidates to engage with constituents across the state, listening to their concerns and crafting policies that resonate with a broader spectrum of the population. Doesn’t that sound great?”

Nebraska is one of only two states that doesn’t award all its Electoral College votes to the statewide winner, a method it adopted ahead of the 1992 presidential election. Since then, the state’s Omaha-area district has awarded its vote to a candidate other than the statewide winner just two times — to Barack Obama in 2008 and Joe Biden in 2020.

While the debate is functionally about just one out of 538 Electoral College votes, shutting Biden out from competing for the 2nd District vote could be pivotal in a tight presidential race.

A potential outcome could involve both presidential candidates getting 269 Electoral College votes — one vote shy of the 2070 needed to win. In that situation, the race would be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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