How Charlie Kirk and Trump sent Nebraska Republicans scrambling on change to state’s 2024 electors

Written by on April 5, 2024

State senators gather for debate on the Legislative floor of the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., May 4, 2023. State senators gather for debate on the Legislative floor of the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., May 4, 2023. — Rebecca S. Gratz for The Washington Post via Getty Images

(LINCOLN, Neb.) — Nebraska lawmakers are embroiled in a last-ditch, Republican-led effort, spurred on by Donald Trump and conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, to eliminate the state’s unique split-vote system for allocating three of its five Electoral College delegates just days before the end of the legislative session.

Such a change could have major implications for the outcome of the 2024 election.

The current system, which is also used by Maine, has been in place since 1991 and has faced multiple attempts to repeal it, coming just one vote short in 2016.

The latest proposal, originally introduced in 2023 and given new urgency with the endorsement of former President Trump and others, would reapportion the three electors awarded to the winner of each of the state’s three congressional districts, instead awarding all five of them to the overall victor of the state, which leans Republican.

In 2020, Trump and President Joe Biden split the state’s delegates, with Biden winning one through Omaha’s congressional district.

Candidates need at least 270 Electoral College votes to win the White House — and analysts say that there are various scenarios in November’s general election where Biden may need that singular vote to make it to 270 and beat Trump.

Likewise, without that possibility, it could be easier for Trump to keep Biden to no more than 269 Electoral College votes, which would mean Biden loses.

The latest legislation to change the state’s electoral system, proposed in January 2023 by Republican Sen. Loren Lippincott, languished in committee for over a year before receiving a renewed burst of attention this week courtesy of Kirk, a far-right conservative radio host and Turning Point USA founder.

In a roughly 200-word post on Tuesday about the bill and its implications on X, Kirk implored Nebraska to implement a winner-take-all electoral system by passing Lippincott’s bill.

“This is completely fixable. Nebraska’s legislature can act to make sure their state’s electoral votes go towards electing the candidate the VAST majority of Nebraskans prefer,” Kirk wrote, telling supporters to contact Gov. Jim Pillem’s office.

Just about five hours later, Pillem released a statement endorsing the bill, calling on the Legislature to send it to his desk, which Trump later called “very smart” in a post on his social media platform.

And thus the legislation was jolted back to life, surprising some other Republicans in the state.

Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee — where the bill is currently in limbo — told The Lincoln Journal Star on Wednesday that he was “blindsided” by the governor and others’ last-minute push to pass the legislation and that his phone “exploded with emails” following the promotion from Kirk.

“Just people being cranky about it,” Brewer told the paper. “And I’m like, ‘Well, you should have been cranky about it a long time ago.”

Supporters of the bill faced a setback late Wednesday after failing to attach provisions from it as an amendment to another piece of unrelated legislation moving through the state’s single chamber.

After that amendment was declared “not germane,” a procedural motion to overrule the decision failed badly, effectively killing the amendment.

Following that defeat, lawmakers continue to face several hurdles in their efforts to get the bill to Pillem’s desk. These include a quickly dwindling timeframe under the current legislative session, which adjourns for the year on April 18, and a lack of votes to overcome a potential filibuster in the chamber — a move Democratic lawmakers have promised if a measure including changes to the state’s split-vote system comes to the floor.

Appearing on Kirk’s podcast on Thursday, Lippincott acknowledged Kirk’s role in reinvigorating support for his proposal but insisted that he only has about 30 of the 33 votes needed to break a filibuster.

“Right now, unfortunately, we have milked the cows and the cows are dry,” Lippincott said.

“I just met with the governor just a short time ago, a half hour ago or so. And our game plan is to redouble our efforts. Hopefully we’re going to pick up some more Republican seats this next year, Charlie,” Lippincott said before Kirk interrupted him.

“That’s not gonna work. So I gotta interrupt you. … What is the plan today to get — your colleagues’ names? Who are they?” Kirk pressed.

“I’m doing everything I possibly can. And I appreciate the help that you guys have been giving us,” Lippincott said, noting that he met with “the secretary of state, the governor, lieutenant governor” and “the inner circle” and is doing “everything we possibly can” to pass the bill.

According to The Nebraska Examiner, Lippincott said he would attempt on Thursday to attach an amendment on the electoral changes to another bill that seeks to make elections in public power districts partisan.

If that bill fails to pass with the electoral vote amendment, Pillem also has the power to call for a special session that could force the state Legislature to reconsider the winner-take-all provisions as a stand-alone bill — though the governor’s office has not indicated yet if such an option is on the table.

Pillem’s office and Lippincott did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment on their next steps.

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