There were many losses on Election Day 2016, but the biggest loser was democracy itself. In the world’s oldest national example of continuous self-government and free elections, the candidate who got the most votes — and it wasn’t even close — didn’t win.

Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin over Donald Trump has now grown to 2.6 million, or more than 2 percent. Yet for the second time in 16 years, the people’s choice will not be president. How can this be?

We all know the answer: the Electoral College, perhaps the Constitution’s most anti-democratic feature, the product of the Founders’ distrust of what ordinary people might do if given the vote.

A lot has changed since 1789. One no longer has to own property to vote. Blacks can vote. Women can vote. Eighteen-year-olds can vote. The franchise, if not quite universal, extends farther than ever before, a tribute to all those who fought to enlarge the freedoms this nation helped bring into the world.

The Electoral College has not changed, though. Barring an astonishment greater than Nov. 8, on Dec. 19 it will affirm Trump as the next president. Then, we must work to ensure that such a miscarriage of democracy never occurs again.

First, let’s be clear about what’s at stake. In no other country in the world, and in no other election for executive office in this country, could a president be certified with fewer votes than his opponent. This should concern, and yes, outrage, us all.


To many of the anti-democratic acts of recent years — one thinks particularly of the egregious decisions of the Roberts Supreme Court, allowing unlimited campaign spending in Citizens United, and the shameful gutting of the Voting Rights Act — there is no quick or effective rejoinder.

But we can fix the Electoral College problem in 2017. The answer lies in the National Popular Vote Compact, adopted by 10 states and the District of Columbia, which should be considered by every state in their annual legislative sessions.

The compact is a wonderfully simple and completely constitutional way to effectively discard the Electoral College. It relies on the constitutional provision that each state set the terms of how its electors should vote.

As we all know by now, Maine is one of two states, along with Nebraska, dividing its electoral votes by congressional district. Barack Obama thus got one electoral vote in Nebraska in 2008, and Donald Trump will receive one from Maine in 2016.

The compact takes that concept further, and mandates that all the state’s electors vote for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of the result in individual states. This is the right and necessary outcome for American democracy.

Consider: We fought the Civil War to establish whether this was truly one nation, or just a collection of states. Since we are now one nation, why should we choose the president through 50 mini-elections whose outcomes may be deficient or, in 2016, downright perverse?


The last major attempt to abolish the Electoral College came after a third-party candidate, George Wallace, gained a significant number of electoral votes in 1968, threatening to send the decision to the House of Representatives. A constitutional amendment easily passed the U.S. House, 338-70, but was filibustered to death in the Senate — though Maine’s two senators, Ed Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith, exemplified the plan’s bipartisan backing.

Now, a better and simpler plan lies before us. Maine is not among the 10 states that have adopted the compact. Compact bills have already been considered, but never with such compelling evidence.

Among New England states, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have already adopted the compact, and the 10 affirming states total 165 electoral votes. When the total reaches 270, a majority, the compact goes into effect, and we will never have another minority president.

Like everything else, the compact has been scrutinized through partisan lenses. That’s why true reform is so difficult to achieve.

Yet before we are Democrats or Republicans, or Greens or Libertarians, we are all democrats who believe that representative government is the best, and perhaps the only, way to govern justly. And representative government cannot work if it misrepresents the will of the people.

That happened in 2000, when five Supreme Court justices installed a new president without due process of law, and again in 2016, when the candidate who should have won was denied through a whimsical scattering of votes.

We can all rise above partisan advantage and embrace democracy, can we not? If so, you will know what to tell your legislator, very soon.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 32 years. His new book, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]

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