Peter Laverdiere of Oxford is the elector for Republican Donald Trump in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

As he approaches his 80th birthday, Peter Laverdiere of Oxford is going to college.

It won’t be the traditional sort of college with books, professors and parties or even the streamlined pandemic version with its masks and Zoom sessions.

Instead, Laverdiere will serve, for the first time, as a member of the Electoral College, a 538-person body that gathers in state capitals every four years to cast votes for the next president of the United States.

Formally, under the Constitution, it’s the Electoral College that decides who becomes president, except in the most unusual of circumstances. Such circumstances haven’t happened since 1876.

Laverdiere, a former board chairman for Oxford’s town government, will serve as the elector.

“It’s a great honor,” Laverdiere said.

Maine’s other three electors are slated to cast their ballots for President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat who served as vice president for the eight years during the Obama administration.

They are David Bright of Dixmont, state Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester and Jay Philbrick, 18, of North Yarmouth. Bright is the only one of the four to hold the same position in 2016, when he was chosen as an elector for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Philbrick, a freshman at Brown University, is one of the youngest electors in history.

Jay Philbrick, 18, of North Yarmouth hopes that his presence among Maine’s four Electoral College members might help inspire other young people to get involved in politics. Submitted photo

He said he decided to take a shot at becoming an elector last spring because he wanted “to show young people there are many different ways, that people don’t even know about, to make a difference.”

Philbrick said he thought his presence among the nation’s electors might help inspire other young Americans to seek elected office or otherwise jump into public service and take an active role in their government.

Most people don’t understand the Electoral College, he said, and don’t realize its members are basically chosen by the political parties.

“It’s kind of a void” in the knowledge of many, he said, particularly since the Electoral College “is kind of confusing.”

State law calls for the electors to gather at 2 p.m. on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes. This year, that’s Dec. 14, location to be determined.

It’s a formality since state law also requires the electors to vote for the candidate they represent, the pattern in most but not all states.

Electoral College voter David Bright of Dixmont speaks during the 2016 proceedings of the Electoral College in Augusta. AP photo

Even so, the unexpected is always possible.

Bright, for instance, sought at the 2016 Electoral College meeting in Augusta to vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who hadn’t been on the general election ballot. Under pressure from state officials who said he had no choice except to stick with Clinton, he ultimately cast his ballot for her.

This time around, the three Democrats are committed to Biden.

Laverdiere, though, is sticking with Trump, the incumbent who lost Maine as a whole but won its rural 2nd Congressional District.

Since Maine is one of only two states to apportion some of its electors on a district-by-district basis – Nebraska is the other – Trump managed to capture his sole electoral vote from New England there for the second consecutive presidential race.

Laverdiere said the party asked him if he wanted to be Trump’s elector from the district because he worked so hard to get the president on the ballot in the Pine Tree State. He said he collected more signatures for Trump’s required petitions than anyone else.

Plus, they knew they could count on him.

“They know how I feel,” Laverdiere said.

Laverdiere said he’s been active in politics for 60 years, an ardent Republican.

Despite Trump’s defeat in the election, Laverdiere said this year’s voting provided a lot to be happy about, including cutting down on the Democratic majority in the U.S. House and the selection of some diverse, interesting Republicans to join the Congress.

Plus, he said, he was glad to see U.S. Sen. Susan Collins reelected in Maine. He said he only agrees with her about 80% of the time, but that’s “better than 0%,” which is his best guess for how often he would have endorsed Democrat Sara Gideon’s votes on Capitol Hill.

The strange position held by the Electoral College always has the institution in somebody’s crosshairs.

Many would like to see it tossed into history’s junkyard.

Philbrick said it’s a conversation worth having.

“The Electoral College may need to be updated in some fashion,” he said, adding that he hopes his selection will help jump-start the debate.

Shenna Bellows, a Democratic elector in Maine

Laverdiere said calls for abolishing the Electoral College, which are becoming ever louder, miss the mark.

He said if presidents were picked solely by a national popular vote, places like Maine “would have absolutely no voice.”

“Now they do,” Laverdiere said, because small states carry outsize clout in the Electoral College because every state starts off with two votes and then gets one more for every member of the U.S. House that it elects.

“The framers were absolutely brilliant in putting together this agreement,” he said, because it ensures everyplace matters in the selection of a president.

Without it, he said, “we wouldn’t have any voice whatsoever. Just pay your taxes and shut your mouth.”

Philbrick said if nothing else, the swirling debate may help get people to pay more attention.

“We’ve got to find ways to break down information echo chambers if we want our country to be stable and unified going forward,” he said, “and that all starts with getting people interested in policy and facts.”

“If I can pique even one person’s attention through all this, and inspire them to go out and learn more about our process, I’ll be thrilled,” Philbrick said.

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