Winner-Take-All Electoral Votes, Photo ID Requirement Get Hearings

Feb. 17, 2021, 5:47 p.m. ·

State Sen. Julie Slama (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Returning to a winner-take-all system for Nebraska’s Electoral College votes, and requiring a photo ID to vote, were among proposals that got a public hearing Wednesday.

Sen. Julie Slama introduced the proposal to return Nebraska to the winner-take-all Electoral College system. Currently, the winner of the statewide vote gets two electoral votes, and the other three are awarded to whichever candidate wins each congressional district. Slama said the Electoral College is intended to give states, not parts of states, the ability to determine votes.

In eight presidential elections since the current system was adopted in 1991, Republicans have won the state each time, but Democrats got one vote from the Omaha-area Second Congressional District twice, in 2008 and 2020.

Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, supported winner-take-all, saying if other states adopted Nebraska’s split system, that could distort presidential elections.

“In 2012, by way of illustration, Mitt Romney would have prevailed over Barack Obama, 274 to 266 electoral votes. Instead, because of the more just way of doing business in other states, the outcome tracked much more closely with the popular vote, and certainly the popular vote of every other state, and President Obama won reelection, 332 to 206 electoral votes,” Hamilton said.

Slama said if Wisconsin had used Nebraska’s system last year, then-President Trump would have gotten six of the state’s 10 electoral votes. Opponents of the bill argued that in a Republican-dominated state, the current system gives Democrats and minority voters a chance to win an electoral vote in the Omaha-centered second congressional district, and increases voter enthusiasm. Among them was Alex Munson.

“The excitement for voting in Nebraska is present because they feel like they can be heard on an individual level. And because they’re not just washed over in this sea of red. Go Huskers! But we don’t want to feel just washed over (in) this sea of red in Nebraska. We want to feel like we can actually show up and have our voices be heard,” Munson said.

Another opponent, Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska, said the group opposes the Electoral College, but if it exists, the Nebraska system is preferable.

“We think it should be really simple, that the person who receives the most votes should win the election. I understand that you as the Nebraska Legislature can’t make that happen magically. Which is why our current system is just the best we can do right now,” Miller said.

Also on hand to oppose the proposal was former Sen. DiAnna Schimek, who sponsored the original bill that created the current split system in 1991. Schimek said it has worked well, although she added “There may come a time in the future when we decide this isn’t a good way to do it.

“Might be now?” asked Sen. Steve Halloran.

“No,” Schimek replied, to laughter.

Wednesday afternoon, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard another proposal by Slama, to require voters to have a photo ID to vote. Unlike previous proposals for laws including such a requirement, this one is for a state constitutional amendment, which would require voter approval. Slama said her proposal is important.

“LR3CA, if passed by this body and approved by the voters of Nebraska would add another layer of security to our elections already implemented by 35 other states without disenfranchising a single voter. Voting is one of the most sacred duties we have as Americans. And LR3CA would increase the confidence of Nebraskans in our elections. I urge you to pass this constitutional amendment to general file and allow Nebraska’s voters to decide whether we should require voter ID in our state,” Slama said.

Secretary of State Bob Evnen, whose office oversees elections, endorsed the proposal, with an amendment he suggested that requires the state to issue photo ID’s at no charge to voters who don’t have one. Sen. Megan Hunt predicted that would be expensive and cumbersome, but Evnen said he could take care of it.

“It’s going to be a nightmare for everybody. This is big government to me, this is more bureaucracy, this is not streamlined,” Hunt said, predicting her constituents would turn to her for help.

“Well, it was the secretary of state of Iowa who told me that if someone couldn’t get in to get their picture taken for a photo ID, he’d go out himself and do it. And he made that offer, and I thought that was a reasonable offer, so you just tell your constituent y’know the secretary of state’ll be out there with a camera and we’ll get your ID,” Evnen replied.

I’ll challenge my constituents to do that. I hope they’re listening,” Hunt said.

Karen Bell-Dancy, executive director of the YWCA of Lincoln, was among those opposing the bill. She said it would have a discriminatory impact.

“We only need to consider who the people are who don’t currently have photo ID. They are not white, affluent, mostly urban middle and upper class citizens. They are people of color, the elderly, immigrants, native Americans and others in remote locations. People who live below the poverty line without stable employment, or employment that doesn’t allow them to have adequate housing or dependable transportation,” Bell-Dancy said.

Also Wednesday, the Legislature’s Executive Board heard a proposal by Sen. John McCollister for a law that would say the Legislature could not consider voters’ political party registration in the process of redistricting. McCollister and other supporters said the proposal would increase voter confidence. No one testified against the bill.

The committees took no immediate action on any of the proposals.