Direct election of president expected, despite bitter opposition

The country has found a politician who is honest, speaking the truth as he sees it, no matter the consequences.

Paul LePage, the former Republican governor of Maine, has spoken out against the proposal for popular election of the president of the United States.

“It saddens me that we’re willing to take everything we stand for and throw it away,” LePage said. “It’s only going to be the minorities who would elect.” He continued, “White people will not have anything to say.”

Two of the last three presidents, including Trump, won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote. That has given a big push to the proposal of having presidents elected by a majority of American voters.

LePage has said, “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.” We are “one of the same cloth,” he said, inviting his listeners to accept him as an authentic supporter of the president’s views.

Unfortunately, the issue has become partisan. Five times, the U.S. has elected a president supported by only a minority of voters. All of the losers were Democrats. Not surprisingly, the GOP opposes the national popular vote proposal.

Many Republicans seek to suppress the influence of “minority” voters, allowing white voters to continue to dominate the political process. Electoral voting goes along with gerrymandering and measures making it more difficult to register or vote.

These policies amount to a rearguard action to slow the inevitability that the “minority” – mainly African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians – will soon constitute the majority of the population.

The proposal before Maine and the country is that states will instruct their presidential electors to vote for the candidate who has won the popular vote nationally. When states with 270 electoral votes, a majority, support this approach, it can come into effect. Right now, less than 100 more electoral votes are needed.

One complaint about the proposal is that Maine, a small state, will lose influence. The electoral vote gives Maine 74/100 of one percent of national voting power. The national popular vote, based on the 2016 election, would give Maine 56/100 of one percent. Maine’s above-average voter turnout would allow it to retain its modest influence.

We expect every voter to have equal weight in the democratic process – one person, one vote. Without the national popular vote, a Wyoming voter has almost four times the influence of a California voter and counts somewhat more than a Maine voter.

In both the 2000 and 2016 elections, Maine voted with the popular majority only to see the loser in the state gain the presidency. The same was true for California, New York and other states, which could not have seemed fair to their majorities. In Maine, despite LePage’s worries, the majority was obviously mostly white people.

In 1787, when the Constitution was drafted, the Framers showed mistrust of democracy, which they limited to the House of Representatives. States retained much power. Each one, no matter its size, got three automatic seats in Congress – two in the Senate and one in the House. The size of a state’s congressional delegation determines its electoral vote.

Since then, popular democracy has risen. The Senate is elected by popular vote, not by state legislatures as it was originally. Women, African Americans and younger people have been added to the original corps of white men. National media and a national economy have grown, engaging citizens across the country.

Under the Constitution, each presidential election is actually 51 separate elections – the 50 states and D.C. Maine, with its split electoral vote system, shows that states can act independently in deciding how their electoral votes will be determined. That is what is now happening.

Jurisdictions with a majority of electoral votes can decide that the state will allocate its votes to a national winner. There are now enough states that have seen their majorities overruled by a popular minority to provide the necessary 270 votes to make the change. There’s no need to amend the Constitution.

Whatever Maine does, the national popular vote is inevitable. Presidential campaigns are national, ignoring state lines. Healthcare, federal taxes, immigration, individual rights, and the economy are addressed nationally not state-by-state by presidential candidates.

The Republican Party needs to extend its appeal to a broader constituency rather then trying to suppress the vote of non-white ethnic groups. It must see that its policies to discourage voting by new participants in the political process are not good for the party or for the country.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.