Maine and Nebraska: The Prospect of a Proportional Electoral Voting System

  • William Yen ‘23

Nebraska – The Good Life – Welcome Sign” by Tony Webster is licensed by CC BY 2.0

In our state, California, the votes for presidential elections are dictated by a winner-takes-all system, meaning that the candidate who wins the state popular vote receives all electoral votes from that state. Forty-eight of the fifty states use this winner-take-all system— all except Nebraska and Maine.

Starting in the 1972 Presidential Election, the state of Maine began to use a new, unconventional electoral voting method, called the Congressional District Method. Before we delve into the definition of this method, it is important to know that in the general process of apportioning electors to states, two electors come from the two senators in each state, and the remaining electors are determined by the number of congressional districts in each state. As such, Maine has 4 electors: two derived from its two senators, and the remaining two derived from each of its two congressional districts. The key difference between the winner-take-all method and the Congressional District Method is as follows: with the Congressional District Method of voting, the statewide popular vote determines the vote of the two, senator-derived electors, while the two congressional district popular votes determine the vote of their respective district electors. 

As a result of the employment of the Congressional District method, in the 2016 presidential election, the vote of Maine’s electors was split. Since Hillary Clinton won the state popular vote, she received the two “senator-derived” votes. Clinton also won the popular vote of Maine’s first congressional district, which covered the southern coastal area of Maine. However, Donald Trump won the popular vote of Maine’s second congressional district, thus causing Clinton to receive three votes (2 senator-derived votes + 1 district vote) and Trump to receive one vote.

Nebraska adopted Maine’s voting model in 1996. One notable instance of split electoral voting in this state was in the 2008 presidential election. Barack Obama won the popular vote of Nebraska’s second congressional district—the city of Omaha and its suburban outskirts—thereby receiving one vote. Meanwhile, John McCain won the popular votes of the other two congressional districts as well as the statewide popular vote, thus receiving four electoral votes to Obama’s one vote.

If California, a solidly blue state, were to adopt this district-based method of voting, it may lose its famous democratic presence, as a great portion of its votes could begin to go to Republican candidates. Nevertheless, Maine and Nebraska, with their unconventional yet logical voting method, offer hope for future presidential elections with more proportional representation. 

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