canada africa partner reservation Maine is once again in the spotlight during the Electoral College odyssey

Maine is once again in the spotlight during the Electoral College odyssey

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Two recent developments in Maine have put the state back on the national stage of how the country chooses its president.

The first came last month when the Legislature voted to join 16 states and the District of Columbia in the National Popular Vote Compact, an agreement under which participating jurisdictions have pledged to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national plebiscite. That would happen even if the state in question voted for someone else.

The plan that Maine just voted for would only take effect if places with at least half the number of electoral votes sign up. So far, in the 18 years the proposal has been on the table, those with 209 of the 270 thresholds have done so. As Maine took this step, the prospects for Michigan to do the same emerged as the special legislative election gave Democrats — who support it — a majority.

Maine had barely signed this into law when a movement by Trump activists to change Nebraska’s voting laws caused Maine Democrats to stand up and take notice. That’s because Republicans are trying to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all outcome when casting its electoral votes.

Nebraska is the only state other than Maine that distributes its electoral votes based on the winner in each congressional district. This resulted in Trump winning only four of Nebraska’s five votes in both 2016 and 2020, as Democrats held one of the three districts. . In the same election, a Republican counterbalance occurred here in Maine when Donald Trump ended up with one of ours by capturing the 2nd Congressional District.

The proposed change in Nebraska would essentially deprive Democrats of a chance at one of Nebraska’s electoral votes.

Mo Terry of Gorham, Democratic House leader in Maine, wasted no time in arguing that Maine should take a page from the same book and undo its own system to offset the Republican advantage in Nebraska. Doing so would likely deprive Trump of the opportunity to win the electoral votes in Maine.

The attention Maine is getting in all of this is an opportunity to reexamine how we arrived at our current destination.

In the early decades of the 19th century, both as part of Massachusetts and then after achieving statehood in 1820, Maine was one of the few states to cast their electoral votes by congressional districts. By the 1830s this was generally abandoned in favor of the ‘winner take all’ or ‘in general’ approach. But for sporadic departures – Michigan in 1892, for example – this method survived for some 130 years and is still the predominant method.

The 1968 election, in which the third-party candidacy of Alabama’s George Wallace risked denying one of the leading candidates a majority vote in the Electoral College and thus throwing the U.S. House of Representatives into election, generated credible support for constitutional changes. This was long advocated, for example, by U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a proponent not only of a popular vote system for electing presidents, but also of a national primary to choose nominees.

In 1969, the U.S. House of Representatives took the biggest step ever in this regard when it voted 339 to 70 to enact the Bayh-Celler Act. It would have replaced the electoral college with the popular vote, while at the same time requiring a second election if no candidate received at least 40%. Despite the support of Republican President Richard Nixon and bipartisan support, for example from Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine – himself the 1968 VP candidate – and Smith, a Republican – the measure failed to pass a filibuster in the Senate to win.

Against the backdrop of the same 1968 battle that generated national interest, Maine passed its own law in 1969, intended to push the country toward a popular vote. The original bill called for the creation of four districts, with the winner in each district entitled to vote in the Electoral College. By the time the bill came out of committee, it provided a hybrid: one vote was allocated to the winner in each of the two congressional districts, but the remaining two went to the statewide winner.

As former House Speaker John Martin, then in his third term in the Maine House, recalled in an interview with this columnist, the bill was passed “under the assumption that other states would follow suit.”

So far, only Nebraska has done this. This happened in 1991.

Both Maine and Nebraska’s laws have received a lot of attention in the last two close elections.

The landmark 1969 law in Maine was the brainchild of a 39-year-old factory worker at Mattawamkeag’s Forster Manufacturing plant named S. Glenn Starbird, Jr., who was in his third term representing a cluster of small communities just outside Millinocket and Patten. The Kingman Township Democrat was the sole sponsor of the bill.

I first met Starbird around this time. As a high school student who regularly attended State House deliberations, I found his observations peppered with intriguing classical and historical perspectives, and an erudite advocate for many causes. He had clear insight into Maine’s once practice of casting electoral votes by district, which seemed partly to lead to his 1969 bill reviving the once moribund method.

He was also probably more concerned with presidential politics than with those of the typical state legislator. That’s because the year before, he and seven other local Democratic leaders had won a random drawing to accompany presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on a summer fishing trip in the Maine wilderness.

Starbird’s paths and mine crossed from time to time over the next few years. The last time this happened was in 1987. We were both working in Farmington on separate projects at the Register of Deeds, where he was then an investigator for the Penobscot Indian Nation investigating the details of properties in northern Franklin County related to the tribe under the 1980 settlement. Act.

I then waved him over to my office across the street for an informal visit. The walls were decorated with all kinds of memorabilia; the one that most caught his attention was a poster promoting the 1947 lecture at Farmington State (now UMF) by the “famous Russian Democratic Statesman” Alexander Kerensky, then in exile in America since the overthrow of his regime in 1917 .

“I saw Kerensky speak in Orono that same week in 1947 when I was a student there,” he recalls.

I have sometimes thought back to my last meeting with Starbird and this vicarious intersection between himself and Kerensky, both committed exponents of democratic procedure. My opportunity to explore this subject further was lost when he died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 66. He died the day after Memorial Day, also the day after Margaret Chase Smith’s death.

Starbird will never be remembered as much as Margaret Chase Smith or Kerensky. His promotion of electoral reform that is now receiving renewed national attention is rightly not forgotten.

Paul Mills is a Farmington attorney known for his analysis and historical insight into public affairs in Maine. He can be reached at [email protected]


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