House lawmakers reject popular vote bill

Posted Feb. 02, 2010, at 3:10 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — House lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a bill to elect the president by popular vote.

Representatives voted 95-50 to defeat the bill, LD 56, which would have made Maine the sixth state in the nation to adopt the popular vote over the current system, in which the candidate who wins the most Electoral College votes wins the White House.

The proposal says that in a presidential election, all four of Maine’s electoral votes would be awarded to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Passage of the Maine bill would not change election practices in Maine or the state’s role in presidential elections — at least not yet.

In order for the popular vote system to take effect, states comprising 270 electoral votes — the amount needed to win the presidency — would have to pass legislation embracing the concept. The five states that have passed popular vote bills — New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Washington and Hawaii — represent just 61 electoral votes.

Supporters said the 2000 election, in which Democrat Al Gore won the most votes nationwide but ultimately lost the presidential election to Republican George W. Bush, was evidence of the need for the popular vote.

“I believe every vote should be equal,” said Rep. Pamela Trinward, D-Waterville. “And I believe if you get the most votes, you should win.”

“Something is wrong with the system and I believe popular vote is the answer,” added Rep. James Campbell, an unenrolled lawmaker from Newfield. “A vote in Maine ought to count as much as a vote in Ohio.”

But the measure’s opponents argued that switching to a popular vote system would hurt rather than help rural states such as Maine.

Rep. Lance Evans Harvell, R-Farmington, said discrepancies between the popular vote and the Electoral College system are not as common as bill supporters believe. Passage of popular vote bills nationwide would encourage presidential candidates to focus even more time and money on only the biggest states, he said.

“This is an act that would relegate us into insignificance,” Harvell said. “Why would anybody come here?”

Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, said the national legislation that was the model for the bill under consideration on Tuesday has significant flaws. For instance, there is no mechanism for a recount and it does not take into account that states have different voting qualifications, Fitts said.

If the nation wants to switch to a popular vote system, Fitts said, then the nation needs to change the Constitution rather than “circumvent the system with some scheme that is full of holes.”

The Maine Legislature also rejected a national popular vote proposal two years ago. This year’s bill had the support of several influential lawmakers, including House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, but it won an endorsement from the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee by just a 1-vote margin.

The bill now goes to the Senate, but given the House’s lopsided roll call its chances of passage are slim at best.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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