AUGUSTA — Critics of the Electoral College urged lawmakers Friday to add Maine to a compact of states pushing to elect the president via popular vote.

But opponents warned such a switch would lessen Maine’s influence on presidential elections and depicted the latest popular vote push as sour grapes over President Trump’s victory in 2016.

“I will not stand by and let my vote no longer count because somebody is not happy with the results of a national election,” said Nancy Coshow of Bridgton.

Under the Electoral College system, states are given the same number of presidential electors as their respective seats in Congress and whichever candidate captures the majority – at least 270 of the 538 total electors – wins the presidency. But the system has been controversial ever since its inception – in part as a compromise with slave-owning states – at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Five presidents in the nation’s history have won the Electoral College vote but lost the popular vote, including Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000.

“In Maine, we believe in one person-one vote,” said Brunswick resident Denise Streeter, a supporter of the popular vote campaign. “Let’s take this opportunity to help our citizens exercise that right.”

Two bills pending in the Legislature would have Maine join a multistate compact in which states agree to award their electoral votes to the candidate that wins the majority or popular vote nationwide.

The popular vote would only be used when states totaling at least 270 electoral votes have enacted the compact. To date, 11 states plus the District of Columbia, accounting for 171 electoral votes, have signed onto the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and at least two more, Colorado and New Mexico, appear poised to join.

Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash who is sponsoring one of the bills, said the current system gives candidates no reason to campaign in most small, rural states or in states where one candidate has a decisive lead. Switching to the popular vote, Jackson said, would treat every vote equally and help increase voter participation.

“As a small state, we are always going to be challenged,” Jackson said. “But I think in this system, every vote – regardless of whether you are from here or from California – counts toward the overall total.”

Numerous supporters also pointed to the turbulent history of the Electoral College as a key reason to switch to the popular vote.

Struggling to find agreement on how a president should be elected, the Founding Fathers meeting in Philadelphia came up with a process that would give voters some say in the presidential election but keep the final decision within the hands of a select group of electors from each state. But the Electoral College compromise was also tied up in slavery – specifically, the debate over whether enslaved individuals should count when divvying up the seats in Congress.

In a compromise between the more populous northern states and rural southern states where slave ownership was common, each slave was counted as three-fifths of a person when allocating state’s seats within the House of Representatives. As a result, southern states also received more Electoral College votes even though slaves (as well as women, indigenous people or freed black individuals) did not have the right to vote.

The U.S. Constitution has since been changed numerous times to open up voting to all citizens over age 18, although states continue to have broad discretion over running elections and choosing electors.

For instance, 48 of the 50 states have a “winner-take-all” method that awards all electors to the statewide victor. Maine and Nebraska, on the other hand, award one elector to the winner of each congressional district plus two votes to the statewide winner.

In 2016, Maine split its Electoral College vote for the first time: Democrat Hillary Clinton received three votes for winning the 1st District and the statewide tally while Trump picked up one vote for winning the 2nd District.

Both supporters and opponents of the popular vote proposal pointed to Maine’s process for splitting electoral votes as superior to the winner-take-all method used elsewhere. Yet the sides disagreed on which system – the Electoral College or the popular vote – would give Maine more influence or draw more candidate attention during presidential elections.

Former Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn pointed out that Maine’s four Electoral College votes represent 0.74 percent of all electors while the state accounts for just 0.4 percent of the national population. While Trump visited Maine several times during the 2016 campaign, Brakey predicted candidates would only visit New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other major cities if they only had to court the popular vote.

“Our system was established so small states like Maine aren’t dominated by big states like New York,” Brakey said.

But Pam Wilmot, who oversees the popular vote campaign for the left-leaning group Common Cause, pointed out that the dozen states with only three or four Electoral College votes are evenly divided between the two major parties. Only one of those small states, New Hampshire, is considered a consistent “battleground” state and most of the others are never visited by presidential contenders, Wilmot said.

The result, Wilmot said, is Maine political activists are sent to campaign in New Hampshire while activists in reliably Democratic Massachusetts make phone calls to voters in battleground states.

“The Electoral College doesn’t help small states in reality, and it doesn’t help big states. It helps battleground states,” Wilmot said. “The election devolves into a small number of states where a candidate can win or they can lose. And that’s because of state laws where the winner can take all in that state.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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