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Top Maine Lawmaker Advocates Electoral Change Solely to Spite the 'Other Side'

Washington DC
Created: 01 May, 2024
6 min read

Photo Credit: Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

 

In April, Maine Gov. Janet Mills gave the OK for her state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This is a proposal that garners mixed reactions from the public, and support or opposition can largely fall on party lines.

Democrats support it. Republicans oppose it and want to keep the Electoral College the way it is. At the end of the day, their motivations are all about who benefits and has the most to gain.

I wrote that the vote on this proposal by Maine lawmakers, which fell along party lines, was a step backwards for a state that is looked at as a model in the voter revolution to put voters first in elections.

The decision to move to the NPVIC was based on partisan interests, not empowering state voters. Read the full piece here

Maine House Majority Leader Maureen Terry doubled down on these efforts to put party first Friday when she said that Maine Democrats should move to a "winner-takes-all" system for presidential electors if Nebraska Republicans do it to benefit Donald Trump.

If Republican lawmakers are going to make a change to benefit their party, Democratic lawmakers should match the move for their own benefit. What is best for voters doesn't even factor into this equation. 

"If Nebraska's Republican Governor and Republican-controlled Legislature were to change their electoral system this late in the cycle in order to unfairly award Donald Trump an additional electoral vote, I think the Maine Legislature would be compelled to act in order to restore fairness to our country's electoral system," said Rep. Terry.

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It's a game to them. How can we score points for "our team"? How can we negate points from "their team"? It doesn't matter that "fairness" comes at the expense of taking power away from voters to determine how specific electoral votes are awarded.

This is what Republicans in Nebraska and Democrats in Maine are now proposing. 

What's 'Fair' in Presidential Elections?

The US Constitution does not specify how electoral votes in presidential elections should be awarded. It only requires the election of the president by a body of electors and each state gets a total number of electors that equals the sum of their seats in Congress.

Nebraska, for example, has 5 electoral votes because it has 3 congressional districts and 2 US senators. Maine has 4 electoral votes because it has 2 congressional districts and 2 US senators.

Most states use a "winner-takes-all" method to award electors, meaning the winner of a state's popular vote (no matter the margin of victory) gets all of that state's electoral votes. Candidates don't even need a majority of the vote.

This happened in 2016 in states like Michigan, where Donald Trump received 47.5% of the state's popular vote to Hillary Clinton's 47.27%. Neither candidate got a majority and Trump won by less than 11,000 votes. Still, he got all 16 of the state's electoral votes.

The same thing happened in Arizona in 2020, where Joe Biden took 49.36% to Trump's 49.06%. 

Maine and Nebraska are unique in presidential elections. They are the only two states in the country that use a Congressional District Method, which means the popular vote in each congressional district decides 1 electoral vote.

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Two electoral votes are reserved for the winner of the state's popular vote.

In the 2020 presidential election, the second congressional district in Maine and Nebraska did not go in the same direction as the state's popular vote so Biden got an electoral vote in Nebraska and Trump got an electoral vote in Maine.

The voters in these congressional districts got some say in the outcome -- which can't be said for millions of voters in other states that do not vote in line with the majority or plurality of voters in their state.

Trump voters in California have zero impact on how electors are allocated in their state just like Biden voters in Alabama. 

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen urged state lawmakers to move to a "winner-takes-all" method in 2024 to ensure the "state speaks with one unified voice in presidential elections.” He also said it was the intent of the Founders -- a go-to talking point that is false.

John Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson are all quoted saying the intent was a district-by-district model. Read "The Electoral College Reform the Nation Needs is Not What Either Party Wants" for more on the history of the Electoral College.

Pillen and other Republicans in Nebraska want the state to speak in a unified voice by silencing hundreds of thousands of their own constituents. If they move to "winner-takes-all," Maine House Majority Leader Maureen Terry says her state should do the same in the name of fairness.

Fairness to who? To the voters who once had a say in electoral outcomes but no longer do? Can one truly say they are acting in the name of fairness by silencing hundreds of thousands of voters?

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This is not about the Founders' intent. This is not about fairness. This is about a game being played between the two major parties -- and making moves that benefit the private interests of those parties.

Trump supports Nebraska moving to "winner-takes-all" because he wants the one electoral vote he was denied in 2020 -- even though that would not have changed the overall outcome. And party leaders have mostly fallen in line with what he wants.

Democrats in Maine adopted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which would pledge the state's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. But can lawmakers really say they had anything other than partisan interests in mind?

What message does it send to Maine voters that California would have a greater say in how their electors vote than they do?

The NPVIC has no legal force until enough states join to hit 270 electors, but even if supporters reach this goal, Maine does not have the population to sway electoral outcomes one way or another. The state's electoral votes would be decided by outside voters.

And now Democratic leaders in the state are proposing electoral changes based on the partisan machinations of Republicans in another state -- even if it means adopting the same method the "other side" supports  to silence hundreds of thousands of voters.

This is not about fairness. This is not about voters -- because if it was there would be far more nuance in the conversation about presidential elections and reform that would genuinely lead to more representative outcomes.

It is antithetical to the direction Maine has gone to put voters first. It was the first state to adopt ranked choice voting, a nonpartisan reform that bolsters competition and choice. It transitioned to open primaries, which give independent voters an equal say in elections.

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These reforms are about the rights and interests of voters, not parties. The purpose of these reforms is about protecting and empowering voters, not about partisan gamesmanship. 

US voters deserve a conversation about presidential elections that goes beyond tit-for-tat partisan politics.

How do we give a voice to the millions of voters silenced every presidential election under "winner-takes-all" rules while ensuring the full breadth of the American electorate is represented in the outcome?

The US is composed of 50 sovereign states, each with their own economies and diverse voting populations -- populations with different priorities, interests, and needs.

If a handful of densely populated counties have the greatest sway in electoral outcomes under NPV or NPVIC, will the needs of voters in Maine and Nebraska be heard in presidential elections? Will candidates even care?

These are the questions that need to be considered -- because maybe Maine and Nebraska were already closer to a fairer and better approach to the Electoral College than what the two major parties support or propose. 

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