AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers in the state’s House of Representatives Thursday rejected a bill that would have put Maine among a group of states seeking to move away from the Electoral College and to popular voting system for electing a U.S. president.

The bill, LD 511, was defeated with 85 lawmakers voting against the measure and only 60 voting for it. The issue is now all but dead in the Legislature for this session.

On Wednesday the bill also lost its second bid in the state Senate where it died on a tie, 17-17 vote. On an initial vote Tuesday the Senate approved the bill, 17-16.

The measure would have allowed Maine to join a compact of states in having 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, which can vary from state to state and which allows a candidate who may not have received the most votes to be elected president.

That was the outcome in 2000 when then Democratic Vice President Al Gore won about 500,000 more votes than his Republican opponent George W. Bush. Bush, however won 271 electoral college votes to Gore’s 265 and after a protracted legal battle that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court was named president.

On Thursday opponents said the move for Maine to join only a handful of states would to adopt a popular vote model would have likely faced a constitutional challenge.

They also said the move would diminish Maine’s already limited clout in presidential elections. The state already uses a unique system for apportioning its four Electoral College votes based on the outcomes in the state’s two congressional districts.

State Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, speaking against the bill, likened the move to a popular vote to lawmakers wanting a smaller slice rather than a larger slice of pie.

He said under the current system Maine electoral college votes amounted to just 0.74 percent of the presidential vote. He said if the state moved to a popular vote, based on the U.S. population the state would only control 0.41 percent of the presidential vote.

“The bottom line is that slice of pie, under this pending motion, is going to be a smaller slice of pie — about 43 percent smaller,” Libby said. “I don’t want a half of slice of pie, if I’m going to get a pie I want the whole thing.”

Others also said that switching to a popular vote would ensure Maine would not be on the radar of most presidential candidates as they would likely campaign and spend campaign funds in the states with the largest populations.

But supporters of the bill said it would allow every voter to know their vote counted when they voted for president.

“I would argue that every Mainer in this state when they cast their ballot they didn’t think about casting their ballot for someone who was going to represent them [in the Electoral College],” state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland said.

She said when state lawmakers are elected they are done so by popular vote in each House or Senate district. “When we do that, we trust their decision. Their vote matters and that is important,” Russell said. “So if we can trust Mainers to vote for us, don’t you think we should trust them and empower them to vote for the president of the United States?”

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.