In a First Since 1828, Maine Electors Split Their Vote

by | December 20, 2016

By Christopher Cousins

Hullabaloo about whether any of Maine's four Electoral College electors would defy the will of Election Day voters fizzled Monday afternoon at the State House when three electors voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton and one for President-elect Donald Trump.

In the weeks since Trump's Election Day surprise victory, rumors swirled that some Republican electors would vote against the New York billionaire. In Maine, the focus shifted Monday morning to Democrats after elector David Bright announced he would cast his ballot for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who beat Clinton in the state's Democratic caucuses in March.

During Maine's Electoral College voting Monday afternoon at the State House, Bright cast a secret-ballot vote for Sanders but was ruled out of order by Maine Electoral College President Betty Johnson. When the ballots were recast, the tally was three for Clinton and one for Trump.

That tally reflected Clinton's statewide win, which was worth two votes, and her victory in the 1st Congressional District, which earned her a third. Because Trump received more votes in the 2nd District, he earned a single Electoral College vote

This year marked the first time since 1828 that Maine has split its Electoral College votes. It is one of two states -- Nebraska being the other -- that does not use a winner-take-all format to allocate electoral votes.

Bright's first vote ended up being merely symbolic.

"I cast my first Electoral College vote for Bernie Sanders today to let those new voters who were inspired by him know that some of us did hear them, did listen to them and understand their disappointment," said Bright. "I want them to know that not only can they come back to the process, but that they will be welcomed back; that there is room in the Democratic Party for their values."

There is no provision in federal law or the U.S. Constitution that requires electors to vote in accordance with their state's popular vote totals, but Maine has a state law that addresses the matter. Maine law states "the presidential electors at large shall cast their ballots for the presidential and vice presidential candidates who received the largest number of votes."

Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said he respected Bright's decision to try to cast his ballot for Sanders.

"Presidential electors play an important role in our democracy and are enabled by our constitution to make an independent judgement," said Bartlett in a written statement to the Bangor Daily News.

But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who was Sanders' political director in Maine, said he did not support Bright's decision..

"The reality is that Hillary was our nominee," said Jackson. "I believe in theory with what [Bright] is doing but I personally wouldn't do that."

Richard Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, cast Maine's lone electoral vote for Trump. He said Mainers and citizen across the nation are "filled with hope and optimism" of being freed from taxes, over-regulation, debt and global threats. Bennett had harsh words regarding Democratic President Barack Obama.

"Our nation, our interests and our future children's prosperity have not been well cared for," said Bennett.

As the proceeding unfolded somberly inside the State House, a rather large contingent of protesters and counter-protesters made noise outside. While an anti-Trump group gathered about an hour before the ceremony, supporters of the president-elect gathered at nearby GOP headquarters and symbolically marched to the State House with Bennett.

Jon McKibben of Caribou was one of the pro-Trump demonstrators.

"We're here to ensure the integrity of the Electoral College," said McKibben, a Trump supporter. "The last six or eight weeks have just been a wild ride that I think everyone wants out of at this point. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better and I'm here to show solidarity."

On the other side of the protest was Debby Smith of Belfast. She said she had no hope that the Electoral College would deny Trump the presidency.

"It could be a lost cause but I feel like I need to do what I can to be present and to have the world know that we're watching and we care," she said.

Peter Conant of Appleton said Trump isn't qualified for the presidency.

"He treats the whole thing like a game or a circus," said Conant.

Trump will be sworn in as the 45th U.S. president on Jan. 20.

(c)2016 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)