Maine split its four electoral college votes for president for the second time in the state’s history – and the second time in as many presidential elections.

While Joe Biden easily carried the statewide vote because of strong support in southern and coastal communities, President Trump carried the state’s 2nd Congressional District, The Associated Press declared Wednesday. And winning the more rural and conservative swath of interior and northern Maine earned Trump one of the state’s four electoral college votes, just as it did in 2016.

Maine is one of only two states that divides its electoral votes rather than adopt the more conventional winner-take-all approach. Although the state Legislature passed a measure providing for splitting electoral votes in 1969 and the law went into effect in time for the 1972 election, the first time a split occurred in a presidential race was during Trump’s first campaign four years ago.

Electoral votes in Maine are divvied up according to two standards. The winner of the statewide popular vote receives two electoral votes and the popular vote winner in each congressional district receives an additional electoral vote.

Biden won the 1st Congressional District and the statewide tally, good for three electoral votes. Trump’s victory in the 2nd District means he wins one electoral vote.

On Wednesday night, with 99 percent of precincts reporting statewide, Biden had 53 percent of the statewide vote and Trump had 44 percent.  Biden led in the 1st District 60 percent to 37 percent, while Trump led in the 2nd District 52 percent to 45 percent.

The results show the two districts remain deeply divided, although Biden had stronger support in both regions than the Democrats’ 2016 nominee.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the statewide popular vote 48 to 45 percent. She dominated in the 1st Congressional District, 54 percent to 40 percent, while Trump won the 2nd Congressional District 51 percent to 41 percent.

While Biden picked up a few percentage points of support in the 2nd District, the yawning gap four years later suggests that Maine will continue to draw attention as part of the critical electoral calculus during razor-thin national elections.

When Maine split its electoral votes four years ago, awarding three to Clinton and one to Trump, it was the first time such a split occurred since the state law permitting such a division went into effect in time for the 1972 election, after George Wallace ran as an electoral spoiler in 1968 to siphon votes from the mainstream candidates, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.

The logic behind the reform may feel familiar: Mainers were wary of a three-way race in which the winner may not have achieved a majority of votes cast but would still get all four of the state’s electoral votes. It’s the same issue that led Maine to adopt ranked-choice voting, which requires instant runoffs if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes in a given race.

Now, Maine deploys ranked-choice voting for gubernatorial and federal races, making it impossible for a candidate in a three-way race to win with less than a majority of the votes cast.

Political scientists say the congressional split for electoral votes works in Maine because of the state’s mostly rural character. Such a division could become unwieldy and hyper-partisan in more densely populated areas, where the drawing of congressional district lines could become an even more contested issue, given the presidential ramifications.

Since 1992, Nebraska is the only other state to adopt such a system, and it, too, has a clear rural-urban divide in it’s congressional districts. Nebraskans split their electoral votes for the first time in 2008 during the Barack Obama-John McCain matchup.

And it happened again this week.

The Associated Press on Wednesday declared Biden the winner in Nebraska’s Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District, a victory that allows him to peel off one of the conservative state’s five Electoral College votes. In 2016, Trump won all five of Nebraska’s electoral votes.

With battleground states still counting votes Wednesday, it wasn’t yet clear whether the split votes in Maine or Nebraska would play a role in the outcome of the 2020 race.


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