LINCOLN, Nebraska: A new political map proposed by Nebraska Republicans will not only make it harder for Democrats to win one of the state’s three House seats, it will also make it slightly harder for Democrats to win the White House.
Nebraska is one of only two states that divide its Electoral College votes by congressional district rather than by a winner-take-all system. This allowed President Joe Biden to claim one in five electoral votes in the state last year, even as he lost to Nebraska by 20 percentage points.
Now Republicans in Nebraska’s legislature are proposing to split the Second Congressional District, which Biden won in his new map. The change would make the swinging district around Omaha, the state’s largest city, more Republican. It would also make it harder for the Democratic presidential candidate to win.
Winning the presidency has fallen short of a single electoral vote since the early years of the United States. Nevertheless, each of the nations has a valuable 538 electoral votes. That single Electoral College vote, sometimes called the blue dot in the state’s sea of red, is enough to make Omaha a regular stop on the Democratic presidential campaign circuit.
The GOP map was approved Thursday in a party-line committee vote in Nebraska’s legislature and will move on the floor of the one-chamber legislature, which is officially nonpartisan, though controlled by Republicans. Democrats oppose the maps and the GOP doesn’t have enough legislators to pull off a filibuster, making it likely that the final maps will be some sort of compromise.
Critics say the current proposal could effectively undo a 1991 law backed by Democrats that split the votes of the state’s Electoral College. Under the current system, the winner of each of the three districts gets one electoral vote. The state receives two additional Electoral College votes, one for each of its senators, going to the state’s overall winner.
There’s no question that Republicans will want to win there, and they’re doing what they think is necessary to do so,” said former state Sen. Bob Crist, a Republican-Democrat who served as the GOP during the state’s last. Worked with MPs redistributed a decade ago.
Republicans say they are not trying to mess with the Electoral College. But he has made no secret of his displeasure at Nebraska’s arrangement.
Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, said Democrats knew exactly what they were doing. They hid behind this noble, populist rhetoric, and it benefited them. The fact is that they want those electoral votes and we want the same.
Barack Obama visited and won the second district in 2008. Hillary Clinton touched down in 2016 but didn’t win. Joe Biden, laid off staff in Omaha, visited the district last year and won, and the extra vote gave him another path to the 270 votes he needed to become president if he could win the correct number of other battleground states. were not able to. It remains a politically competitive area, fairly evenly balanced between the two parties and is represented in Congress by a Republican, Don Bacon.
The new map would cut off the western edge of Omaha and put it in the 1st Congressional District, which leans solidly toward Republican because much of it is rural agricultural land with many more conservative cities. Those voters would be diverted from suburban and rural areas to the west that are more Republican.
If Democrats lose their shot at the blue dot in Nebraska, it’s likely they will improve their chances of picking another. The only other state that splits its electoral votes by congressional district is reliably Democratic Maine, whose sprawling, rural second congressional district was won by Trump last year.
On Thursday evening, Maine Democrats, who control the state legislature, issued a resolution that would move the state capital Augusta and the strongly Democratic city of Hallowell to another congressional district. This may have made the district a bit more democratic, although both sides were still analyzing the plan.
Despite the partisan overtones, the biggest objections to the Republican Nebraska plans have come from Omaha residents and advocates who say the GOP should not divide a city.
When you look at these proposals that divide communities, that divide counties, there are going to be a lot of red flags raised, said Danielle Conrad of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.
Notably, the Republican proposal retains the African-American neighborhood of North Omaha and a heavily Latino section of South Omaha. But Preston Love, president of Black Votes Matter, a group based in North Omaha, likened the Republican plan to divide the city to a tangible legacy of empowerment for African-Americans running through North Omaha.
This, Love said of the proposal to split his city, is a voter freeway.
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the sponsor of the Republican proposal, said he was not trying to change the presidential election. Growth in Omaha and its suburbs simply requires expanding the area into several congressional districts.
Linehan said the GOP map does not eliminate nor guarantee the blue dot. The blue dot depends more on the presidential candidates than the Congressional map.
At a legislative hearing on Thursday, residents of Omaha complained about their city being divided. Carmen Bunde, a West Omaha realtor whose home will relocate to the 1st Congressional District under the GOP plan, said she considers herself a proud Omahan who wants to live in another district. Bunde said his sister lives in Wahoo, a small farming town in the first district from which she lives, and their lives are very different.
We don’t have a single school district or legislative concern, Bunde said. It doesn’t make sense for us to be stacked together. I am a proud Omahan, and Omaha is where I live, play, worship and work.
Ricardy reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle contributed from Portland, Maine.
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