Maine flag
Maine flag at the Lighthouse at West Quoddy Head in Lubec, ME, September 2017. Photo credit: Ron Cogswell

This week, Maine became the 17th state to join the National Popular vote Interstate Compact, which would ensure that the winner of the popular vote becomes president.

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Determining the winner of an election by which candidate gets the most votes should be a no-brainer. And that’s how the United States elects its members of Congress, governors, and just about every other official. But not presidents. 

In fact, the last two Republican commanders in chief came to power even though they earned fewer votes than their opponents — George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 by a bit more than 500,000 votes, and Donald Trump in 2016 by a whopping 2.8 million votes. Trump then came close to “winning” reelection even though Joe Biden earned over 7 million votes more in 2020. 

In recent years, however, a movement has gotten underway that would ensure that the candidate who gets the most votes across the entire United States will win the election — the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. 

This week, it took another step toward making this a reality when Maine became the 17th state (plus Washington, DC) to sign on to the interstate compact. 

Here is how it would work: If states with a total of at least 270 Electoral College votes — enough to win the presidency — join, then the delegates of these states will support whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. 

With Maine joining this week, states with 209 electoral votes have now pledged to choose the president this way. 

After the state Legislature passed the required legislation, Gov. Janet Mills (D) did not exercise her right to veto the bill, and it became law. 

“Opponents have raised legitimate questions about whether presidential candidates would want to visit Maine knowing that, under a winner-take-all system, their chance to win our electoral votes declines and, as a result, their time would be better spent elsewhere,” Mills said in a statement.

That may be true for a contested state like Maine, which is an outlier because it divides its Electoral College votes (two go to the winner of the popular vote and one each to whoever wins each of the state’s two congressional districts).

However, presidential candidates never bother to visit most states (except to attend fundraisers) because the outcome in all but a few of them is never in doubt. For example, Biden will handily win in the bluest states like Hawaii and Vermont, while Trump will thump him in places like Wyoming or Mississippi.

Currently, neither of them has any incentive to woo voters or to spend advertising dollars there. 

And changing that is one of the reasons that swayed Mills. 

“While I recognize concerns about presidential candidates spending less time in Maine, it is also quite possible that candidates will spend more time in every state when every vote counts equally, and I struggle to reconcile the fact that a candidate who has fewer actual votes than their opponent can still become president of the United States,” she said. “Absent a ranked choice voting circumstance, it seems to me that the person who wins the most votes should become the president. To do otherwise seemingly runs counter to the democratic foundations of our country.”

However, it seems unlikely that enough states to cross the threshold will join the interstate compact any time soon. That is because most Democratic-led states have already joined (in large part because Democrats have won five out of the last six popular votes), and Republican states have shown little appetite for giving up the advantage they enjoy in the Electoral College.

Still, even the smallest step gets the United States closer to electing its presidents in a way that is actually fair.


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