How Nebraska’s Weird Electoral Vote System Came To Be

This was an unusually good week for Slate, as we hired a new reporter-blogger factotum: Emma Roller. She’s improving this blog and the Moneybox blog behind the scenes, and from time to time she’s going to publish items on both pages. If you see her byline, read it. – DW

While Virginia’s proposed electoral-vote-by-district plan may have already jumped the shark, it has resurrected the question: Why do Nebraska and Maine use this seemingly arcane electoral vote method in the first place?


Enter Dianna Schimek. She’s the former Nebraska state senator who is largely responsible for her state using the congressional district method of electoral votes. After originally learned about the vote-by-district method at a national meeting, she introduced legislation to change Nebraska’s system that was enacted in 1992.


What benefits did she see in the system? “It is one that I think will energize the electorate and perhaps even bring more candidates to Nebraska, although certainly that wasn’t the overall selling point that I used.”

The bill originally received bipartisan support, but Schimek says after the second round of debate, Republicans suddenly did an about-face.

Why? “I have no idea. I just know the Republican chairman sent a letter to every Republican legislator at that time saying, ‘Don’t vote for this bill.’”

The law squeaked through, and has remained despite a recent attempt by Republicans to do away with the system:

In separate action, the [Republican state central] committee approved a resolution that would deny party support to any Republican state senator who fails to support legislation returning Nebraska to a winner-take-all presidential electoral vote system.

That resolution went nowhere, but a gerrymander helped keep the normally liberal, metropolitan 2nd Congressional district from going blue for Obama in 2012.