Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
By splitting its electoral votes for the first time this year, Nebraska made history. By 2012, the system that made the split possible could be history.
John McCain won Nebraska as a whole and carried the 1st and 3rd congressional districts in the state. Obama prevailed in Omaha-based 2nd district. In every state except Maine and Nebraska, Obama's victory in the 2nd would have been irrelevant. However, under Nebraska law, Obama will receive one electoral vote -- the first time a Democrat has won any of Nebraska's districts since the vote-splitting law went into effect for the 1992 election.
Nebraska's governor is a Republican, Dave Heineman. The legislature is nominally non-partisan, but I'm fairly sure that in reality Republicans have a majority. As a result, the question now is whether Republicans want to make Nebraska a winner-take-all state again -- and, most likely, ensure that the state gives all of its electoral votes to Republicans for the foreseeable future.
They're thinking about it. Here's what CQ reported last week:
And there's a chance that Nebraska might move in the opposite direction, if some Republicans in its unicameral legislature have anything to say about it. Previous attempts to rescind Nebraska's system died in committee, though the next try should garner more attention in light of Obama's capture of one electoral vote. "We expect there will be a renewed energy to that debate," says Eric Van Horn, the communications director for the Nebraska Democratic Party.
It will be interesting to see the political dynamics of this debate. In some sense, the district splitting system worked the way it was intended. Nebraska isn't close to being a swing state, but, because the 2nd district electoral vote was in play, the state wasn't neglected by the campaigns like the other non-swing states.
Still, I'm sure that Republicans will also say the system worked as intended: As a Democratic scheme to take an electoral vote that, under normal rules, the Republican nominee would have received. Democrats were the ones who passed the vote-splitting law in 1991.
Even if they don't change the law, the legislature could try to make it harder for Obama to win the district when they redraw district lines after the 2010 Census. Making the 2nd more Republican would also help protect Lee Terry, the Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represents the district.
But, just from a cursory glance at the situation, it won't be easy for Republicans to adopt that strategy. Right now, the 2nd includes all of Douglas County, where Omaha is located, and parts of neighboring Sarpy County.
Douglas County has been growing faster than the state as a whole. In 2010, it was home to 27% of the state's population. As of 2007, it's up to 28%. That means that, unless line drawers are willing to split up the county (which I'm sure would be controversial), it will dominate whatever district it is in. Obama took 52% of the vote in Douglas County, ensuring that a Douglas-dominated district will be politically competitive (or at least competitive based on the 2008 vote).
Of course, it's never a good idea to underestimate the creativity of the people who draw congressional districts.
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