Election Center

National Popular Vote would steal Maine’s voice in presidential elections

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On May 14th, the Maine Senate took the first step to allocate Maine’s four Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide. Fortunately, the Maine House responded two weeks later on May 30 by rejecting the proposal 76-66. The bill now awaits further votes in both chambers unless the Senate elects to recede and concur with the House, effectively killing the bill.

LD 816 would add Maine to a compact of states that have passed similar legislation to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. However, the bill would not take effect until the compact represents 270 or more electoral votes. Thus, if enough states pass this legislation, the candidate who prevails through the Electoral College would always do so by winning the popular vote.  

The interstate compact already represents 189 electoral votes and has been enacted into law by 14 states and Washington D.C. This means the national popular vote movement needs an additional 81 electoral votes to become active. The movement’s goal is not far-fetched; the Nevada state senate recently voted to move forward with the compact, but Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak vetoed the measure on May 30, the same day the Maine House rejected LD 816.

If this legislation were to pass in both Maine and Nevada this year, the movement would require only 71 electoral votes to meet the 270 vote threshold. Despite its support in the state senate, LD 816 received a majority “Ought Not to Pass” report out of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in March. In addition, the vote was delayed several times in the Maine House in the weeks leading up to the body rejecting the measure, a signal that leaders of the Democrat-led chamber knew of defections within their caucus.

The leading argument in favor of using the national popular vote to elect the president is that all citizens, regardless of location, would have the same impact, or voice, in the election. However, passage of the compact reduces the impact that small states have on the presidential election. In Maine, two of the state’s electoral votes are currently allocated to the winner of the statewide popular vote. The other electoral votes are split amongst Maine’s two congressional districts. Thus, every Mainer votes for three electors to choose the president.

According to the Secretary of State, 747,927 Mainers voted for a presidential candidate in 2016 and the total vote nationwide was 136,669,276. Based on these figures, Maine’s total votes would have accounted for .547 percent of the national vote under a national popular vote system. In contrast, the Electoral College gives the state of Maine a weighted advantage, accounting for .743 percent of the total national electoral votes.

While this is not in the best interest of large states such as California or Florida, it ensures small states such as Maine and Wyoming are not forgotten. After all, President Donald Trump visited Maine on five separate occasions during the 2016 election and prevailed with one electoral vote in the second congressional district. President Trump’s earning of this one electoral vote from Maine’s Second Congressional District was the first time in our state’s history that we did not award all four of our electoral votes to the same candidate.

The Electoral College system does not merely give the state of Maine more influence over national elections, it also provides individual Mainers more influence as well. Individual votes in Maine would have accounted for .000000732 percent of the vote total under a national popular vote system. In comparison, the same Mainer’s vote accounted for .00000097 percent of the electoral vote total if they reside in the first congressional district and .00000103 percent if they reside in the second congressional district. In other words, a voter in Maine had either 25 or 29 percent more voice in the outcome of the 2016 national election in the first and second congressional districts, respectively, under the current system.

Comparatively, individual Florida voters had only 72 percent of the influence they could have had under a national popular vote system in 2016. More specifically, an individual voter in Maine had more than 40 percent more influence over the national election under the Electoral College than a voter in Florida, primarily due to turnout and the distribution of electoral votes. With this data, it is perplexing that lawmakers in Augusta would consider giving up some of the influence that Mainers, and the state, have over the presidential election.

While we do not advocate for changing the Electoral College, there may be other avenues that state legislatures can take to allocate their electors aside from the current “winner-take-all” system utilized by most states and the national popular vote scheme being debated in Maine and other state legislatures. After all, Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution states, “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress…” This provision in the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures significant discretion to change how they allocate electoral votes. In this regard, Maine should be a beacon of light for other states to follow.

Article I, Section X of the Constitution prevents states from entering into interstate compacts without congressional approval, which is what makes the national popular vote movement unconstitutional. Instead of changing the method of allocating electoral votes to a nationwide vote, other states could embrace the system Maine currently uses. If all states allocated two of their electoral votes to the state popular vote (for the two senators) and the rest of the electors based on the vote in each of their congressional districts, it would be a much more representative system.

In this scenario, President Trump would have won the presidency with 290 electoral votes and Hillary Clinton would have secured 248 electoral votes. In other words, President Trump won in 230 congressional districts and in 30 states whereas Hillary Clinton won 205 congressional districts, 20 states and the three electors in Washington D.C. As a point of reference, President Trump received 306 electoral votes and Hillary Clinton received 232 in the current system dominated by “winner-take-all” states.

In 2012, Mitt Romney would have received 274 electoral votes to former President Obama’s 264 electoral votes; the official result with the “winner-take-all” system was 332-206 in favor of former President Obama, despite Romney receiving over 47 percent of the national popular vote. While this system would have completely altered one of the last two presidential elections, it would give individuals more influence over for whom their electors vote.

Simply put, the congressional district method would benefit rural voters in most other states, just as it does in the state of Maine. For example, large cities such as Portland had no bearing on who won the electoral vote in Maine’s second congressional district. That vote was representative of voter sentiment in rural Maine.

Lastly, this change would not only be much more representative of the voting demographic in the United States, but it would also keep our elections decentralized as they are today. The national popular vote would be much more open to manipulation by foreign and domestic actors because tampering with ballots in one state could drastically affect the outcome of an election, whereas state influence is currently capped by electoral votes. At a time when the electorate is concerned with foreign entities, such as Russia, meddling in our elections, it would be unwise to scrap the Electoral College in favor of a system that centralizes power.

In summary, the national popular vote movement would merely serve to reduce the impact Maine voters have on United States presidential elections. A system that both sides of the debate should be able to agree on is the split-vote, congressional district method currently used by our state and Nebraska. Not only is it much more representative of the United States voting population as a whole, but it is more secure and preserves the Electoral College in its original intent.

About Adam Crepeau

Adam Crepeau serves as a policy analyst at The Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at acrepeau@mainepolicy.org.

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