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Maine Brings US “One Step Closer” to Ending Electoral College

Maine accepted the interstate agreement after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills refused to sign or veto the bill.

The Maine state flag waving on a clear day.

Maine has become the 18th jurisdiction in the United States to pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which, if enacted, would end the Electoral College’s influence in the selection process for the office of president.

The bill, which was passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, made it to Gov. Janet Mills’s (D) desk last week. Mills opted not to sign the bill but also chose not to veto it, allowing it to pass into law.

Mills said she understood both sides of the argument when it came to the compact, simultaneously claiming that such a measure would diminish Maine’s influence in presidential elections (a talking point against ending the Electoral College that has been widely debunked) while also agreeing that the possibility of a future presidential election being decided that disregards voters’ preferences would be unfair.

“Absent a ranked choice voting circumstance, it seems to me that the person who wins the most votes should become the president,” Mills said in a statement justifying her decision.

Such elections have happened twice in the 21st century alone — in 2000, despite Democrat Al Gore winning more votes, Republican George W. Bush won the presidency, and in 2016, Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, despite losing the popular vote by millions of ballots. Overall, the Electoral College has failed five times in U.S. history to select the presidential candidate whom most voters preferred.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact isn’t enforced yet, as it can only be enacted after enough states sign on, equaling a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes). With Maine’s inclusion in the compact, 17 states plus Washington D.C. have signed on, amounting to 209 Electoral College votes.

Ordinarily, any change to how the president is selected would require passing an amendment to the Constitution — a process that could take many years, and would likely fail in the current political climate. However, the compact sidesteps this problem by using provisions in the Constitution to enact a popular vote.

Article II of the Constitution states that, for the purposes of selecting a president, “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” If the states themselves decide to assign electors based on who wins the national popular vote, the process is wholly legal.

Polling shows that most Americans want a popular vote system to replace the Electoral College. A Pew Research survey from last fall, for example, found that 65 percent of Americans want to change the current system of selecting the president so that the person receiving the most votes from voters wins, versus just 33 percent who said they wanted to keep the current system intact.

After Maine passed the compact into law, National Popular Vote chair John Koza released a statement applauding the state’s action.

“Maine joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact moves us one step closer to a system where the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes always wins the presidency and every voter in every state is politically relevant in every presidential election,” Koza said in a press release.