A proposal to have Maine join other states in an agreement to elect a president through the national popular vote hit a roadblock Tuesday amid unified opposition from Republicans and a split among Democrats about whether such a change should be approved by voters.

The split vote in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee complicates the path forward for the bill as it heads to the floor in the coming days for votes in the House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats.

Use of the Electoral College has come under increased criticism after two of the last four U.S. presidents were elected without winning the national popular vote. The system came under increased scrutiny in 2020, as Donald Trump and his allies sought to game the system by having Congress challenge voting results from certain states to tip the electoral vote to Trump.

Those efforts failed, but the events caused many to rethink the use of the Electoral College.

Rep. Art Bell, D-Yarmouth, proposed a bill, L.D. 1578, that would have Maine join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, agreeing to allocate its four Electoral College votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. That compact would only take effect if it is joined by enough states to give the coalition control of a majority of the Electoral College’s 538 votes.

Republicans on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee unanimously voted against the proposal, saying the compact would diminish Maine’s influence and make the state an even less attractive campaign stop for presidential candidates.


“I think the way it’s set up – that rural states and rural towns and rural parts of the world get the best representation out of this,” said Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. “I think national popular vote is the wrong way for us to go. I think it gives New York, California, Miami and these big cities all the votes.”

Maine is one of two states, along with Nebraska, that split their electoral college votes. Maine grants one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district and two to the statewide winner. Other states have a winner-take-all approach.

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who leads the committee, also voted against the bill because it would not require approval in a statewide referendum. He was joined by two other committee Democrats, Rep. Karen Montell of Gardiner and Sen. Stacey Brenner of Scarborough.

Hickman said that Jan. 6, 2021 – the day Trump allies challenged the Electoral College process as a violent mob descended on the Capitol – “changed everything for me.” Despite being a self-described student of government, he wasn’t aware that Congress could challenge electors from certain states.

Though he supports electing a president by popular vote, Hickman believes that voters themselves should weigh in.

“It seems to me that if we are going to change the way that the people of the state bind their electors in a way that we have been doing since 1969 then the people of the state ought to do it at the ballot box,” Hickman said.


The proposal would have Maine join a compact that now includes 16 other states and Washington, D.C., to award their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote – even if that doesn’t reflect the state’s results.

So far, those states have committed 205 electoral votes to the compact, according to the National Popular Vote, a national nonprofit pushing state-level bills. The compact will only take effect if the coalition gets the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president.

If enacted, the compact would not take effect for the 2024 election, according to testimony at a public hearing last month.

similar bill was considered in Maine in 2019. It passed the Senate, but ultimately died in the House.

Two of the last four U.S. presidents, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, won office despite losing the national popular vote. Hillary Clinton earned about 2.9 million more popular votes than Trump in 2016. Al Gore collected 540,000 more votes nationally than Bush in 2000.

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