Are states still popular?

Should we even bother having states?

Apparently, that is a question which needs to be asked. Earlier this week, the Maine Senate endorsed the so-called “National Popular Vote.” It would, by law, compel Maine’s Electoral College representatives to cast their ballots for whoever wins a plurality — not a numeric majority — of individual ballots cast for president on Election Day in November.

You’ll notice a few buzzwords in that paragraph. A few years ago, the thrust of the efforts of electoral reformers centered around “ranked-choice voting.” Advocates claimed those of us concerned about the proposal were wrong when we said the Maine Constitution prohibited the law. Turns out, the Maine Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the concerned; an amendment passed during a constitutional crisis in the late 1800s plainly stated a “plurality” was our state standard.

Voters wait in line in the gymnasium at Brunswick Junior High School to cast their ballots for the Nov. 6 mid-term election in Brunswick. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

That led to a bifurcated Maine ballot in 2018. Our federal elections — US House and Senate — were conducted under a “ranked-choice” system, while our state general elections, such as governor, were traditional single choices. Notably, then-Rep. Bruce Poliquin won a plurality on the first ballot, while now-Rep. Jared Golden was selected as the second or third choice of more voters, which pushed him past Poliquin.

Suffice to say, our elections were a little more complicated than normal in 2018. But we are one state, and a small one at that. Our municipal clerks take their jobs seriously, while Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and his election staff faithfully discharge their duties. They are overseen by town councils, city managers, and the Maine Legislature. The ballots were returned, tabulated and the results promulgated.

But we are one state, one jurisdiction, or, in the words of one ranked-choice voting advocate, One Maine.

If the Legislature passes the “National Popular Vote” bill and it ultimately goes into effect, how will it be squared with ranked-choice voting? If Maine, Vermont, and Oregon voters are all ranking their choices, who will be the single authority to process the ballots and know the correct order of elimination and reallocation? After all, there are currently 24 Democrats running for president. Do the math and that means there are more than 2 quintillion possible ballot combinations. Someone needs to be in charge.

Forget whether we should abolish the Electoral College as a matter of policy. Shoehorning things through workarounds creates, in the best case scenario, significant complications. The worst case? It throws an imperfect-but-accepted system into chaos, creating the possibility that the results will be dismissed as unreliable and leading down a very dangerous road.

If people are unhappy with the Electoral College, they should organize and elect like-minded people to Congress. Push officials to pass a constitutional amendment, and rally states to adopt it.

Because states still matter. That was the holding of the Supreme Court this week, overturning a 40-year old precedent. The constitutional principles are a bit esoteric, but the question presented was whether a state may be sued without its consent in a different state. For example, could Walmart sue Maine in an Arkansas court? The old rule said “yes.” The new rule says “no.”

Those on the left pounced, clamoring that the end of precedent is neigh and the Supreme Court will run roughshod over cases like Roe v. Wade. They’ve assailed Sen. Susan Collins and her vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sided with the majority to overturn the old rule.

Yet, there is one minor detail lost amongst the sound and fury: 45 of the 50 states asked the Supreme Court to overturn its precedent. If you read the list of names, you will see “Janet T. Mills, Attorney General.” You haven’t seen any accusations that Gov. Mills is destroying America for opposing precedent. Nor should you, because it would be silly.

We are the United States. Each of the 50 states matter in their own right, as the Supreme Court recognized. And if proponents of the popular vote proposal think that should change for president, then address it head on, the right way, with a constitutional amendment.

Then it can go to the states.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.