Maine’s electoral college votes may soon be poised to go toward the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections — regardless of who Mainers choose to support at the ballot box.
LD 1578 — An Act to Adopt an Interstate Compact to Elect the President of the United States by National Popular Vote — sponsored by Rep. Arthur L. Bell (D-Yarmouth) was introduced during the first legislative session and carried over to this year.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, if approved by Maine lawmakers, would award the state’s four electoral votes to whichever candidate garners the most popular votes nationwide, irrespective of who the majority of Mainers voted for at the ballot box.
Debates concerning the validity of the electoral college — as opposed to the national popular vote — as a means by which to elect the president have come to the forefront in recent years, especially following the 2016 presidential election.
In December of 2016, after all the votes had been counted nationwide, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote; however former President Donald Trump won more votes in the Electoral College.
This was the fifth time in United States history — and the second time in the 21st century — that the candidate who won the most votes in the Electoral College did not also win the national popular vote.
The Electoral College was originally created by the Founders in 1787 as a compromise among the delegates at the Second Constitutional Convention.
Although the original design of the Electoral College bears little resemblance to the manifestation of the system as it is known today — aside from the distribution of electoral votes based on a state’s Congressional representation — it nonetheless continues to impact the shape and character of presidential elections.
Fundamentally, the Electoral College creates a system in which a successful presidential campaign hinges upon a candidate winning in enough of the right states, not gaining support from the greatest number of voters.
Consequently, this drives candidates’ campaign strategies in the direction of so-called “battleground” states, where the voter base is more closely divided, as opposed to the most population-dense areas of the country, as would be the case under a national popular vote system.
Supporters of the Electoral College system argue that this is beneficial because it forces candidates to appeal to a broader coalition of voters from a variety of states.
“The Electoral College prevents presidential candidates from winning an election by focusing solely on high-population urban centers and dense media markets, forcing them to seek the support of a larger cross-section of the American electorate,” the Heritage Foundation — a think tank based in Washington D.C. — wrote.
“This addresses the Founders’ fears of a ‘tyranny of the majority,’ which has the potential to marginalize sizeable portions of the population, particularly in rural and more remote areas of the country,” the think tank states.
On the other hand, opponents of the institution — such as those behind the Interstate Compact — suggest that the system unfairly concentrates attention on a handful of states, allowing candidates to disregard issues important to those outside these select areas.
“Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion,” National Popular Vote — the non-profit behind the Compact — writes on their website.
“In 2016, almost all campaign events (94%) were in the 12 states where Trump’s support was between 43% and 51%,” the non-profit states. “Two-thirds of the events (273 of 399) were in just 6 states (OH, FL, VA, NC, PA, MI).”
“For many years I have thought that the electoral college had outlived its usefulness,” Rep. Bell — who sponsored LD 1578, the National Popular Vote bill — told the Maine Wire. “Extending the principle of one-person, one-vote to presidential elections is essential to the future of our democracy.”
“The National Popular Vote bill guarantees the presidency to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all fifty states and ensures that every voter, in every state is politically relevant in every presidential election,” Bell said. “This proposal benefits every voter of every party in our state and nation.”
“My hope for the bill is that my colleagues agree to pass this critical piece of legislation,” Bell said. “By a 2 to 1 margin, American voters want a national popular vote for president. By passing this bill, Maine can do it’s part to advance the cause of our democracy — to give every Maine voter an equal voice in presidential elections.”
The Interstate Compact will go into effect if, and only if, the participating states hold a majority of the country’s electoral votes — the threshold necessary for a candidate to win the presidency — which currently comes to a total of 270.
As of now, 205 electoral votes controlled by the seventeen states that have already passed legislation signing onto the Compact.
Among the states now included in the Compact are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhone Island, Vermont, and Washington.