Column: Change To Winner-take-all Diminishes Unique Electoral System

This story was written by Jeff Hall, Daily Nebraskan

For the first time in a generation, Nebraska actually matters in a presidential election.

But that soon could change if certain state politicians have their way.

You see, Nebraska is unique. We have a Unicameral legislature, and our members in the Electoral College can split their votes.

In most states, whoever wins the most votes statewide wins all of that states electoral votes. It's called, simply enough, the "winner-take-all" format.

Here in the Good Life, we can split them by district. The same goes for Maine, the other electoral oddball.

This is a way of ensuring that more Nebraskans can translate their vote into representation in the Electoral College.

But Mark Quandahl, Chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party, said in a Lincoln Journal Star article from Sept. 21, "I didn't like the idea ... and I still don't buy it." In the same article, he said, "Yes, we will urge someone to introduce a bill to repeal it."

In previous elections, dating back to 1968, it was assumed that all of Nebraska would vote Republican. Therefore, neither party invested much in the state. It was an easy five electoral votes for Republicans and a losing effort for the Democrats.

2008 is a different year.

Sen. Barack Obama has become the first Democrat to seriously campaign in Nebraska. Obama officially opened an Omaha office on Sept. 10. He hopes to persuade Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, made up of Omaha and surrounding areas, to "go blue."

A full-time staff has been hired to coordinate an intense voter registration campaign. One assumes that a massive get-out-the-vote effort will follow.

This enthusiasm isn't just limited to the Democrats. On the same day as the Obama office opening, the Nebraska Republican Party kicked off its all-volunteer campaign in Omaha.

What this enthusiasm means is more Nebraskans are getting involved with the electoral process, engaging and shaping their government. It's what the founders would have called "civic virtue."

Then why does Quandahl want to eliminate our unique, and now engaging, system?

To start off, it's not just Quandahl. Governor Dave Heineman has commented as well, saying, "Nebraska is disadvantaging itself" and that the system was designed to protect small states.

Yes, the system was designed to protect small states like Nebraska. But it was designed to protect small states from being overlooked nationally, to give them a voice where they otherwise might have been overlooked.

If Nebraska was a winner-take-all state, we would be much like our neighbors in South Dakota, Wyoming and Kansas - all but ignored when it comes to the presidential contest.

Nebraska likely will continue to have a majority of its voters registered as Republicans, and the more Democratic 2nd district will be swallowed up with the rest of the state.

We would see no national attention from either party and have fewer opportunities for citizens to be involved in the political process.

But if our unique system is an advantage to the citizens of Nebraska, rather than a disadvantage, what are Heineman and Quandahl thinking?

Perhaps they are worried that the 2nd district could swing for Democrats not just in 2008, but in the future as well.

This is a purely political move. Yet both have tried to shroud their motives in the guise of fighting for the underdog.

In the same Journal Star article, Quandahl said Obama's campaign targeting the 2nd district is not related to his opposition to Nebraska's current system.

After loking at the benefits of the "Nebraska way," this comment by Quandahl seems to lack authenticity.

When our current electoral method was proposed, it was introduced by a bipartisan group, led by then state senator DiAnna Schimek. The results have been clearly beneficial to our state.

By proposing a change to the winner-take-all format, the leaders in the Nebraska Republican party are demonstrating their lack of concern for Nebraskans.

They don't want to see them involved in the electoral process, and they definitely don't want to have Nebraskans turn their political beliefs into representation.

Don't be fooled by appealing rhetoric. Our electoral system, unique as it may be, gives Nebraska a voice on the national stage. It gets people involved with politics, when many may sit on the sidelines.

The leaders of the Nebraska Republican Party are just putting politics ahead of people.