The beauty of the Electoral College should not be thrown away

Maine lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee on Friday will hold a public hearing on a pair of bills – LDs 418 and 816 – which would bind Maine’s Electoral College votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote.

To be fair, this isn’t really a new idea in Maine. Special interest groups have been trying to get Maine to sign the NPV compact for more than a decade, but never has the possibility of Maine signing the compact been more real.

But doing so would be a mistake for several reasons.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lisbon in October 2016. Photo by Amber Waterman

When it comes to electing the president of the United States, there’s no better place to turn to than the arguments that helped frame our Constitution and our system of representative government.

The Founding Fathers feared tyranny of the majority, which is why they established this country as a representative democracy.

The system our founders devised to elect the president of the United States, known as the Electoral College, is comprised of 538 electors. Each state is allotted an elector for each member in its congressional delegation. To win the presidency, a candidate must obtain the votes of 270 individual electors. This process ensures the electorate of each individual state has a voice in selecting our nation’s chief executive.

Contrary to certain proponents who call foul and claim that the fear of majoritarianism is a somewhat more recent, and more nefarious concept, the reality is that the term, and the concept were in general use in the late 1700s, and was famously written about in “Democracy in America,” political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835.

Indeed, the intellectual heritage of the concept can be found in many other places as well.

In Federalist Papers No. 51, for instance, James Madison writes, “[I]n the federal republic of the United States … all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.”

Our founders intentionally avoided establishing a pure democracy. They had the foresight to know that majority rule would jeopardize the rights and freedoms of a minority. So they established the system of the Electoral College, partly to protect against a devolution into mobocracy, but also ensure that each state plays a role in electing the president.

Without the Electoral College, presidential candidates would pay no attention to states like Maine. Candidates could and would focus their campaigns in a small handful of states with the largest population centers, and outright neglect the interests of rural states like Maine.

Indeed, even when visiting smaller states, candidates would be incentivized to speak to, listen to, the concerns of metropolitan and suburban voters, and would bypass entirely the concerns of places like Lisbon, which was the fifth location visited by Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

He took time during his campaign to visit with voters at the Open Door Bible Baptist Church in Lisbon, because the possibility of receiving that one elector belonging to the Second Congressional District could have been the one vote he needed to reach the 270 vote threshold.

If Maine is to adopt the NPV method of allocating its Electoral College votes, you’ll likely never see a presidential candidate step foot in Maine again. More importantly, visit or no visit, it is difficult to imagine a candidate even noticing the issues that impact voters in the most rural areas of states like Maine.

We in Maine also currently enjoy one of the most fair and unique methods of allotting Electoral College votes. Half of our four Electoral College votes go to the winner of the statewide popular vote, and the remaining two electors are awarded to the winner of the popular vote in each of Maine’s two congressional districts.

Maine is one of just two states, along with Nebraska, that currently splits its electoral votes in this manner. If anything, Maine citizens should be pushing for this method to be extended to the rest of the states, because the NPV system totally undermines the will of Maine voters.

No one is arguing that our current method of electing a president is perfect, or that it doesn’t have significant drawbacks. The real question comes down to whether or not the new system would be superior to the one it replaces.

In the end, it would be foolish for Maine lawmakers to move forward with either of these proposals.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.