There are plenty of bad ideas floating around Augusta this session, from public takeover of a private company to massive tax hikes to enormous new government programs — and with Democrats in charge, many of them are bound to pass.

One of the worst, though, isn’t any of these, but the proposal that Maine join the Interstate Compact on the National Popular Vote. Essentially, this bill would eliminate Maine’s unique voice in the presidential election and hand over our four electors to whoever gets the most votes nationwide.

If you find it confusing that this is possible without a constitutional amendment, you’re not alone. An interstate compact is an agreement between states to do something; it requires the approval of Congress only if it somehow usurps the federal government’s authority. This was the case of the now-expired Northeast Dairy Compact, which New England formed in order to raise milk prices and assist local dairy farmers; it may not be in the case of the National Popular Vote Compact.

Because the U.S. Constitution grants states the authority to decide how to allocate electoral votes, states (theoretically) are able to band together and assign their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote rather than whoever wins in their state. Under the National Popular Vote Compact, this allocation would kick in only when enough states sign on to constitute a majority of electoral votes, or 270.

There are a number of problems with this proposal, even if one puts aside the fundamental question of its legality. The biggest hole in this scheme is that it relies on a concept that doesn’t really officially exist: the national popular vote for president. While we see national vote totals on the news on election night, and organizations conduct national polls, it’s important to remember that in fact the United States conducts 51 different state-based presidential elections (including the D.C. election). At the end of the day, there’s no central tabulating room where some government official is counting the national popular vote — it’s just an unofficial count.

Under the National Popular Vote Compact, a state elections officer from one of the participating states chosen by his colleagues determines what the actual national vote is and who won. That sounds simple enough, but unfortunately that format doesn’t really allow for the possibility of a recount. In the current electoral system, it’s worth recounting a state in a presidential election only if the state’s electoral votes would change the outcome — that’s why the 2000 recount zeroed in on Florida, as a very large, very close state.

If you thought that was a nightmare, imagine it amplified on a national scale in the event of a close race — and this system doesn’t even allow for a bad recount, let alone an orderly one. A very close presidential election decided under the National Popular Vote Compact would be about as fair as a major playoff game where the most controversial call couldn’t be reviewed. (Sorry, Saints fans.)

Since we have 51 different state elections for president, we also have at least 51 different ways for determining who is on the ballot, how votes are counted and who can vote. Maine, for one, never restricts the rights of felons to vote: They can even vote from prison. None of the four largest states in the country — California, New York, Florida and Texas — allow prisoners to vote. So Maine would be basing the assignment of its electoral votes on the outcome of the vote in states that don’t even allow everyone to vote. That’s manifestly unjust.

Another major problem with the National Popular Vote is that it bases the assignment of electoral votes on who gets the most votes — a plurality, not a majority. This means that the national popular vote might throw Maine’s four electoral votes to a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot here. Under the current system, that seems politically implausible, but there’s nothing in the National Popular Vote Compact that specifically bars it from happening. If states under Democratic control pass laws requiring presidential candidates to release their tax reforms, or some other ballot-access rule targeting the next Republican candidate, this possibility suddenly becomes much more likely.

If you believe that the U.S. ought to eliminate the Electoral College, then try to do it the right way: Through a constitutional amendment that could address these issues directly. Don’t try to do it through a risky scheme that lessens our electoral influence as a small state and tries to circumvent the Constitution.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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