AUGUSTA, Maine — Seven Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives reversed themselves on Wednesday to give new life to an interstate bid that could eventually make the Electoral College follow the national popular vote in presidential elections.
The bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, initially passed the Senate in a narrow vote last month, but it was in danger of failing after a 76-66 vote against it in the House. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led lower chamber reversed itself to back it in a 77-69 vote.
It faces further action in both chambers amid heavy mobilization against it led by the Maine Republican Party, which is ramping up to back the election of President Donald Trump, the fifth president in U.S. history to be elected without winning the national popular vote. He also won a historic split of Maine in the 2016 election, gaining one of Maine’s four electoral votes.
All House Republicans opposed the change in May, while 21 Democrats voted against most of the members of their party. That number of Democrats shrank to 13 by the last vote on Wednesday, following a tense and rare tied vote on agreeing to the Senate’s position on the bill.
The Democrats who reversed their stances on Wednesday were Reps. Betty Austin of Skowhegan, Anne Carney of Cape Elizabeth, Henry Ingwersen of Arundel, Colleen Madigan of Waterville, Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro, Ann Peoples of Westbrook and Maureen Terry of Gorham. Rep. Archie Verow, D-Brewer, opposed it in May and didn’t vote on Wednesday because he was excused from the session to attend a family graduation.
Jackson’s bill would make Maine join a compact of 15 jurisdictions that now account for 189 electors, short of the 270 needed to elect a president with the majority of the 538-member Electoral College. If enough states join, the states would give their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who their voters back.
The Electoral College gives outsized influence to small states such as Maine by apportioning electors based on the number of members of a state’s congressional delegation. While Maine had about four-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. population in 2016, its four presidential electors made up roughly seven-tenths of 1 percent of the Electoral College.
Democratic proponents of the bill have argued that presidential candidates now have an incentive to focus on larger swing states and have little reason to visit small states like Maine, while Republicans have argued that the change would hand Maine’s influence to larger states. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, hasn’t taken a position on the measure.
For a roundup of Maine political news, click here to receive Daily Brief, Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.