AUGUSTA — The Maine House rejected a bill Thursday that would have Maine join a compact of states pledging to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote during presidential elections.

The 76-66 vote against the measure comes two weeks after the state Senate agreed to add Maine to a growing number of states aiming to elect presidents by popular vote.

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.

While the Senate vote fell largely on along party lines, with all Republicans and two Democrats opposing it, the House saw a more bipartisan rejection of the measure, after at least 20 lawmakers made speeches from the floor.

The bill will now go back to the Senate, where lawmakers there will have another chance to vote for or against the measure.

Compact states agree not to begin using the popular vote method until the 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 was given the right to vote in presidential elections.

But opponents said Maine would lose its voice in a popular vote system and that Maine’s system of awarding Electoral College votes, unusual among states, goes even further to to protect the rights of the minority.

Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, said the bill was the most dangerous of the lawmaking session as it sought to fundamentally change the federal government.

“If a candidate had run on destroying the Electoral College and giving Maine’s electoral votes to New York City, they would have been laughed off the campaign trail and most certainly would not have been elected,” Andrews said.

Other lawmakers said the move to create the compact was mostly a “knee-jerk” reaction from those dissatisfied with the election of President Trump, who lost the national popular vote but won the Electoral College vote.

“There have always been a small number of people questioning why we do not elect presidents by popular vote but never on this scale,” said Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor.

But supporters argued that the switch would actually give Maine a greater voice and more attention during presidential election years, in part because of the state’s high voter participation rates.

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said he supported the switch to a national popular vote because the creation of the Electoral College was based on the defense of slavery when the U.S. Constitution was being formed.

Hickman, who is African-American, said the most damaging legacy of the Electoral College was not that it conferred too much power on a group of 12 “so called battleground states” with the most Electoral College votes to control the election, but that it was created to protect the power of slave states before the Civil War.

Each state is awarded Electoral College votes based on the number of lawmakers it has in Congress. Maine currently awards its Electoral College votes based on the outcome of the election in each of the state’s two congressional districts. The candidate who wins each district is given one vote, while the statewide election winner is given the other two.

In 2016, Donald Trump won Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and one of the state’s four Electoral College votes that year, marking the first time that a statewide winner was not awarded all four of the state’s electoral votes.

The bill will now face another vote in the Maine Senate, which could accept the House’s decision or insist on its previous decision and send the bill back for another vote in the House.

The measure could also become stranded between the two bodies and die when the Legislature adjourns, which is expected sometime in mid-to-late June.

 

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