Maine Redistricting Could Sway Presidential Race

By: - August 31, 2011 12:00 am

There’s a chance — albeit a very small chance — that a decision Maine makes this fall will determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election.

Maine is one of two states, along with Nebraska, that for presidential elections awards one electoral vote to the winner of each of its U.S. House of Representatives districts, rather than just awarding all electoral votes to the statewide winner. That means that the boundary between the state’s two House districts could determine how many electoral votes President Obama or his Republican opponent collect from the state. Maine legislators will redraw that boundary in a special session that begins September 27.  

Already, that line has been subject to political sparring on the state’s Advisory Apportionment Commission. Democrats on the commission argued for plans that made minimal changes to the existing line. Republicans favored bigger changes which would have placed more GOP voters in the state’s Northern 2nd District, imperiling President Obama’s hold on the district, as well as the seat of Michael Michaud, the district’s Democratic congressman. The current 2nd District is already the more politically competitive of the state’s two districts. Then-Senator Obama won 55 percent of the vote in the 2nd in 2008, compared to 61 percent in the 1st district.  

The Republican plans suffered a small setback yesterday, when the advisory commission voted for the Democratic plan, the Bangor Daily Newsreports . All seven Democratic members of the commission voted for their party’s plan, all seven Republicans voted against it and the independent chairman, Michael Friedman, voted with the Democrats after failing to broker a compromise. “I couldn’t get the donkey and the elephant to move a stitch, even though I tried,” Friedman said, according to the Daily News .  

The commission’s action is non-binding, however. The real decision will be made in the September special session. Maine Governor Paul LePage is a Republican and the Republicans control both houses of the Maine legislature, although they lack a two-thirds majority in either house. Maine law says that congressional redistricting plans must win a two-thirds majority to pass the legislature, but Dan Billings, LePage’s chief legal counsel, told the Sun Journal (Lewiston) last week that Republicans will consider removing that law, then passing their plan with a simple majority vote.  

No presidential election has been decided by a single electoral vote since the disputed 1876 race in which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ultimately was declared the winner over Democrat Samuel Tilden, 185 to 184. But it’s not hard to come up with a plausible result for 2012 in which one vote would matter. Say the 2012 presidential election played out exactly like 2008 except Obama lost Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district (where he won a single electoral vote in 2008). In that case, Maine 2nd district would be the difference between a 270-268 Obama victory and a 269-269 tie, with the presidency decided by the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman helps lead research on fiscal management and place-based economic development programs as part of Pew’s state fiscal health project. Goodman has served as a primary author for Pew studies that examine how states should evaluate tax incentives and maintain budget discipline when implementing those incentives.