The Other 48 Should Follow Nebraska and Maine
By Doug Patton
March 21, 2011
In 2008, Barack Obama won an electoral vote in, of all places, Nebraska. How could this happen? After all, the Cornhusker State is one of the reddest states in the country. No Democrat had won an electoral vote in Nebraska since Lyndon Johnson creamed Barry Goldwater coast-to-coast in 1964. In fact, in the 2004 race between George W. Bush and John Kerry, a greater percentage of counties went to Bush in Nebraska than in his home state of Texas. So how did a far-left Democrat like Barack Obama pull an electoral vote out of Nebraska?
Simple. Nebraska has a law on the books that is truly representative of the will of the voters. It splits the state's electoral votes if a presidential candidate wins a congressional district. Maine has a similar law. The other 48 states have winner-take-all election laws.
Those who would advocate the abolition of the Electoral College need to go back to grade school and gain a modicum of knowledge about the founding of this country. The Founders knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew that in order to give the states a fighting chance as sovereign entities, they could not in good conscience allow the federal government — or a consortium of large states, for that matter — to completely run roughshod over the smaller states. So they set up a legislative system that apportioned U.S. Representatives by population but two U.S. Senators for each state, regardless of size or population. Likewise, there was to be one electoral vote for each congressional district and one for each member of the U.S. Senate. This gives three electoral votes to a sparsely populated state like Wyoming — one for its at-large U.S. House member and one for each of its two U.S. Senators. Hence, small states have a voice.
Recently, Nebraska's Republican Governor, Dave Heineman, and a group of GOP state senators in the officially non-partisan Unicameral Legislature decided to try and reverse the 1991 law that made splitting Nebraska's electoral votes possible. Prior to '91, Nebraska also had a winner-take-all system, and Heineman and some in the Unicam would like to return to the good old days when Democrat presidential candidates didn't stand a chance. But is that really what voting is supposed to be about?
Imagine the frustration of living in a decidedly red state and watching your congressional district vote for a Democrat — perhaps overwhelmingly — only to have all of the state's electoral votes handed to the other guy. Now try to imagine being a conservative living in a conservative district in California or New York (yes, there are some), only to see your vote canceled out by a policy that awarded all the electoral votes of your state to the candidate who opposed your views, your values and your politics.
We are constantly hearing about voter participation. We have made it so easy to vote that no one should be left out of the process. And yet, voter turnout across the country is pathetically low. In emerging democracies, people risk everything to vote in numbers that put us to shame. Why? Because they believe their one vote will make a difference. We, to a large degree, no longer believe that.
Nebraska officials should rethink their attempts at reversing this law, and legislators in Maine should not contemplate repeal in their state. Rather, the rest of the states should seriously contemplate adopting this common sense approach. The 2008 presidential election in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District proved that the system, as these two states envision it, works. It reflects the will of the voters, and isn't that what the Founders wanted for this nation?
Americans should believe in their own participation so passionately that they are willing to die in order to exercise their right to vote. We should be proud, like the Iraqis who held their ink-stained fingers aloft in defiance of tyranny. Tip O'Neill once famously quipped that all politics is local, but that is only true if people believe their vote actually counts.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.