As Maine went, so shouldn't the nation
SECTION: COLUMNIST; Pg. C8
LENGTH: 813 words
The 'Maine method' of electoral votes is problematic; a multi- state method is better way
When Maine acts, other states pay attention.
From Clean Elections to voting rights advocacy, Maine is the state to emulate when it comes to good government laws. And it's unafraid to take the lead when the federal government fails to act. This was precisely the case in 1969.
That year, the U.S. Senate rejected a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College, despite a solid movement to do so. In the aftermath, frustrated Mainers passed their own reform, aptly titled the Maine Method.
For nearly 40 years, Maine has allocated our electoral votes by congressional district. Our two Senate votes automatically go to the winner of the statewide popular vote, while our two congressional district votes are allocated based on the winner of the vote within the individual district. This means we can split our votes 3 to 1.
Now, many years later, our quirky way of electing a president (since joined by Nebraska) is being examined as an alternative way for the nation to elect a president.
But does our 1969 advancement still qualify as forward-thinking reform?
The founders established the Electoral College as a means to balance desires for the direct election of the president, with those for having Congress elect the president. Additionally, mass transit and mass communication were more than 100 years away, meaning average voters would have little opportunity to educate himself (yes, himself) on the candidates - assuming they could even read. It made sense at the time to elect local representatives whose job it was to be responsible for making an informed decision about who should run the country.
In 1968, the political landscape was vastly different. Television was eclipsing radio as the preferred method of communication, the first televised national debates had occurred and literacy rates were high. The country also faced an extremely contentious and violent election. A leading candidate, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated and protesters were in the streets calling for theof the Vietnam War. As a result of the political landscape, there was a significant movement to abolish the Electoral College. For advocates, it was time to embrace the educated electorate and empower them to directly vote for the president.
The following year, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment replacing the Electoral College with the direct election of the president. Southern segregationists fought back in the Senate and stalled the debate until the issue was finally tabled, where it has remained since.
Recently, some Californians launched a citizens initiative to switch their state to the Maine Method in advance of the 2008 election. While the initiative failed to garner enough signatures to make it to the ballot, the fact that the group pointed to Maine as an example of a successful model should raise the ire of Mainers generally.
There is a big difference between our humble four electoral votes and California's behemoth 55 votes, especially with a presidential election in the balance. Had the proponents been successful, the election might well be decided long before voters around the country even head to the polls.
Further, adopting the Maine Method nationally causes serious problems, due in large part to the steadily shrinking number of battleground districts caused either by people moving to communities that share their values, or partisan gerrymandering. This trend forces presidential candidates to further focus attention on select few battleground districts or states ... exactly as they do now.
Another group is advocating a multi-state compact, the National Popular Vote Plan, adopted by Maryland that would lead to direct election of the president. States who join the compact agree when the collective number of electoral votes reaches 270 (the number needed to win the presidency), all compact states would allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
This plan provides a reasonable means to protect Maine's interests as a rural state, while working to realize our state's original vision of the direct election of the president. It also has the best chance of increasing presidential visits to Maine and other New England states not named New Hampshire.
Maine legislators will again take up consideration of the "National Popular Vote" plan (LD 1744 - An Act to Join the Interstate Compact on the National Popular Vote) when they return to session in January.
If they can trust us enough to vote them into office, shouldn't they trust us to vote for the president, too?
Diane Russell, a Bryant Pond native and Common Cause-Maine board member, works on electoral reform issues in Washington, D.C.
Jon Bartholomew of Portland is the media and democracy organizer for Common Cause.
Date: 12/23/2007 12:00:00 AM
Office: Common Cause Maine