AUGUSTA, Maine — By a 1-vote margin the Maine Senate Tuesday supported a bill that would move the Pine Tree State away from the Electoral College system when it comes to selecting a winning presidential candidate here.

In an initial 17-16 vote the Senate approved LD 511, a bill that would allow Maine to join a compact of states in allowing the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states to be elected president. The current system depends on a complicated process, that can vary from state to state and which allows a candidate who may not have received the largest number of votes to be elected president.

Lawmakers favoring the bill said it was long overdue and is an attempt at restoring value to the votes of individuals.

“This bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes,” said Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford. Tuttle said the measure is meant to bolster the the principle of “one man, one vote.”

Tuttle, the Senate chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, also said there was no opposition to the bill during public hearing before the committee.

Sen. Richard Woodbury, a Yarmouth independent, said every time he watches the Electoral College system in action he comes back to the same conclusion.

“I am all the more convinced, that right now in our American democracy the person who gets the most votes is the person who should be elected president,” Woodbury said.

But opponents to the measure including state Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, called the measure an “end run” on the Constitution.

“If we would like to change the way we elect our president there is a way to do that,” Mason said.

He said the U.S. Congress could change the presidential election system or it could be achieved through a so-called Article Five Convention where two-thirds of the state legislatures vote to amend or clarify the U.S. Constitution.

Mason said the bill, as proposed, assumes all states have identical election laws.

“As we all know, we don’t,” Mason said. “We debate them in this chamber all the time.”

He said Maine, for example, allows convicted felons to vote where they are not in other states. “There are myriad exceptions to different states’ laws,” Mason said. “If we truly are going to go after the concept of ‘every vote equal’ and ‘one man, one vote’ then we need to have a national election policy — which I don’t agree with — about if we are going to advance an idea like this we need to look at something like that.”

Under the compact idea, the states with the majority of the electoral college votes, 270 of 538, could be achieved by as few as 11 states. “That’s a little more than 20 percent of the Union deciding what’s best for all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” Mason said. “I don’t think that’s democracy at work.”

Mason also said the change would diminish Maine’s power in presidential elections and not enhance it, which would likely result in presidential candidates simply ignoring the state’s voters.

But state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, refuted Mason’s assertion saying he often hears constituents in his district complain that their vote for president doesn’t truly count.

“Time and time again, I’ve looked at them and said, ‘Well I’m hoping some day we can make that change because I do want my one vote or my wife’s one vote to count,” Patrick said. “It’s the frustration of the American electorate saying I want my one vote to count.”

The bill, which passed on its first reading, faces additional debate in the Senate before moving back to the House for additional votes.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.