The Maine Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs (VLA) Committee held a work session this afternoon to discuss the possibility of having Maine sign onto the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement that could bring about sweeping changes to how the U.S. elects presidents.
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.
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.
At the close of Tuesday’s work session, committee members were divided on what the ultimate fate of the bill ought to be. A majority of lawmakers expressed support for one of two amended versions of the bill, while several legislators opposed the proposition altogether.
In opposition to LD 1578 were Rep. David Boyer (R-Poland), Rep. Benjamin Hymes (R-Waldo), Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin), Rep. Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield), and Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris).
Supporting an amended version of the bill that made a handful of technical changes to the legislation’s language were Rep. Benjamin Collings (D-Portland), Rep. Lynne Williams (D-Bar Harbor), Rep. Marc Malon (D-Biddeford), Rep. Laura Supica (D-Bangor), and Rep. Morgan Rielly (D-Westbrook).
Another amended version of the bill added a provision that would allow Mainers to make the final call on this issue by voting on a referendum question at the ballot box. This amendment also included the necessary technical changes set forth in the other version of the bill.
Sen. Stacy Brenner (D-Cumberland), Sen. Craig Hickman (D-Kennebec), and Rep. Karen Montell (D-Gardiner) all voted in supporting of amending LD 1578 to include a referendum provision.
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 — originally developed by the Founders in 1787 as a compromise among the delegates at the Second Constitutional Convention — 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 nationally.
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.
“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.”
Before the VLA Committee moved Tuesday to vote on the bill, several Republican lawmakers offered remarks explaining their opposition to the Compact.
“Our forefathers got it right 248 years ago. I think it’s worked will for the country since,” said Sen. Timberlake. “I think national popular vote is the wrong way for us to go. I think it gives New York, California, and Miami and these big cities all the votes.”
“Why in the heck would you come to the state of Maine and campaign otherwise? So for those reasons, I’m going to support my forefathers and stay with them,” Timberlake said.
“I do not support national popular vote in any capacity,” Rep. Andrews said. “I think if anything should be adopted, its the models that Maine and [Nebraska] have where their electoral votes are split among Congressional districts.”
“I think that’s a model to be emulated not thrown into the trash bin of history,” Andrews said.
“I do think that we are being short-sighted with this particular issue as far as what it would actually do to the State of Maine,” Rep. Rudnicki said. “I don’t think we would have any benefits. I think it would actually be detrimental to the state to do this in the long run.”
GOP members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee speak on why they oppose the National Popular Vote Act. pic.twitter.com/4rg1PAIEAq— The Maine Wire (@TheMaineWire) February 6, 2024
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 are controlled by the seventeen states that have already passed legislation signing onto the Compact.
Among the states currently 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.