AUGUSTA — The state Senate backed a bill Tuesday to add Maine to a growing number of states aiming to elect presidents by popular vote rather than through the Electoral College system.

The Senate voted 19-16 to have Maine join an interstate compact in which participating states agree to award their Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide. The vote fell largely along party lines, with all Republicans and two Democrats opposed to it.

The measure now heads to the Democratic-controlled House for consideration.

Compact states agree not to begin using the popular vote method until its membership represents at least 270 electoral votes, which is the minimum number of electors needed to win the White House. To date, 14 states plus the District of Columbia – comprising 189 electoral votes – have joined the interstate compact and lawmakers in more than a half-dozen additional states are debating the issue.

Popular vote supporters say the time has come to replace an Electoral College system that was created at a time when slavery was legal and only a select group of white males were given the right to vote in presidential elections.

“We’re not in the 1700s any more,” said Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden. “Sometimes we change the laws because we live in a modern century. It happens a lot. This one needs to be changed.”

Opponents, primarily Republicans, have warned that moving away from the Electoral College will further minimize the influence of small states such as Maine and fundamentally change an election system that adheres to the federalist ideals of state’s rights.

Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, called the bill, L.D. 816, a “radical proposal” that would allow places such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and more populous states to control the White House.

“The national popular vote would effectively nullify the votes from Maine and other small states,” Guerin said.

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.

President Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton but captured enough electors to win the presidency, as did Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore in 2000.

Maine has four electors and is one of only two states that can split those electoral votes among two different candidates based on election results in each congressional district.

Bill supporter Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, said the reality is that only five or six swing states typically decide the presidential election. Voters in the other states are essentially ignored under the current system, he said.

“Fundamentally, I believe the people of the country should be able to vote for the president,” Luchini said. “This would better embody the notion of one-person, one-vote and ensure that everybody’s vote – anywhere in the United States – is equal and that every vote is counted.”

Responding to claims that the Electoral College system better protects small states like Maine, Luchini pointed out that 27 of Maine’s 28 electoral votes have been awarded to Democratic presidential candidates during the past seven years.

“And I don’t think that’s reflective of the way Maine people vote,” Luchini said in a reference to Maine’s divided electorate.

But Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, pointed out that Maine did draw some attention during the last election.

“Does anyone here really think that Donald Trump came to Lisbon to go to church?” said Davis, referring to one of Trump’s campaign swings through Maine. “Come on folks. You know better than that. He came here because he knew that there was an electoral vote up for grabs. And indeed, he grabbed it and he got it.”


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