The Maine Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to radically change the presidential election process. L.D. 816 would diminish Maine’s voice and increase our partisan divide. Thankfully, however, it has not passed the Maine House, and even if adopted, it may be unconstitutional.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact was created more than a decade ago by a millionaire from California. The compact requires states to ignore how their own residents vote in presidential elections. Instead, state officials would collect results from every state, add them up and appoint presidential electors based on the national total. In theory, this would create a direct election for president.

It sounds simple, but the devil is in the details. Every state would have to trust every other state, with no power to verify the accuracy of their totals. And the National Popular Vote plan says nothing at all about what might happen in a really close election – would there be a national recount? How would that work? What if officials in one state believed that another state was cheating?

At best, the National Popular Vote Compact would rely on judges to sort out these questions. At worst, it would shift power to Washington and put presidential appointees in charge of presidential elections.

The original intent of the Electoral College was to keep power in the states and to allow legislators to figure out how best to represent the people of their own states. The National Popular Vote Compact turns this on its head. Whether a judge would strike it down, however, is impossible to know.

The compact only takes effect if passed by enough states that they control 270 or more electoral votes – a majority that would control the election outcome. So far 14 states have adopted the compact, including California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, which would clearly benefit from the shift in political power to major urban areas.

During two different periods in American history, the Electoral College has worked to protect us from regional politics. After the Civil War, the Democrats were able to get the most popular votes, based on intense support in the South. But they could not win the Electoral College until they reached out to voters in the North and West. This incentive helped rebuild the Democratic Party and to knit our nation back together.

Today, the Democrats again face a similar challenge. In 2016, they won the most popular votes in the presidential race, based on intense support in California and a smattering of big cities in other states. But the Electoral College sets the bar higher, requiring greater geographic diversity. Democrats now face a choice: Either try to change the rules, or work to win back voters in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The latter path – building a broader coalition – would be good for both our country and the Democratic Party.

This protection against regionalism is one reason why so many other nations have similar systems. India, the world’s largest democracy, uses an electoral college to elect its president. Countries with parliamentary systems, like Canada and Great Britain, also use a two-step election process to choose their prime minister.

In the United States, our Electoral College pushes political parties and campaigns to build broad coalitions, trying to cobble together not just enough raw votes, but enough votes from across the country, to win an electoral vote majority. Maine should stick with the state-by-state Electoral College and steer clear of the National Popular Vote Compact.


Comments are not available on this story.