AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted 17-16 Tuesday in support of a bill that would move the state away from the Electoral College system when it comes to selecting a winning presidential candidate here.

The bill, LD 511, 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, which can vary from state to state and which allows a candidate who may not have received the most 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. Those opposed to the measure noted that a mere 11 states, those with the largest number of Electoral College votes, could change the way a president is elected.

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

Tuttle, Senate chairman of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said there was no opposition to the bill during a 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 U.S. 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 an Article Five Convention, in which two-thirds of the legislatures in the United States would 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 in Maine, for example, convicted felons are allowed to vote but are not allowed in other states.

“There is a myriad of exceptions to different states’ laws,” Mason said. “If we truly are going to go after the concept of every vote is equal and one man, one vote, then we need to have a national election policy, which I don’t agree with. 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, which likely would result in presidential candidates simply ignoring the state.

State Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, rebutted 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 more debate in the Senate before moving back to the House for additional votes.

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