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Conservative activist launches campaign for people’s veto of national popular vote law

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Conservative activist launches campaign for people’s veto of national popular vote law

May 22, 2024 | 5:12 am ET
By Evan Popp
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Conservative activist launches campaign for people’s veto of national popular vote law
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Entrance to the polling station in Portland's Merrill Auditorium. (Jim Neuger/Maine Morning Star)

Citizens and Republican lawmakers have launched a “people’s veto” campaign in an attempt to repeal a measure that would pledge Maine’s Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president. 

Organizers will now need to collect a little over 67,000 signatures by early August to put the issue on the ballot. 

LD 1578, which would make Maine part of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, was approved by the Legislature in April, with the Democratic majority at the State House largely supporting the measure and Republicans mostly opposing it. States in the compact pledge their electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the most overall votes across the country rather than to the person that wins that particular state. 

Gov. Janet Mills let the bill go into law without her signature, making Maine the 17th state to approve the agreement. If the people’s veto effort fails and Maine indeed joins the compact, states with 209 total electoral votes will have ratified the agreement. 

The compact would only actually be implemented if states with a total of 270 electoral votes join. That’s because 270 electoral votes represents a simple majority in the Electoral College, meaning that the compact would guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote is elected president if it takes effect.  

Lawmakers back reform as Maine poised to join National Popular Vote movement

For proponents of the compact, the basic idea is to avoid situations like Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 or George W. Bush’s win in 2000, where the candidate with fewer overall votes was elected president by virtue of their Electoral College majority. Trump and Bush are both Republicans, and the GOP holds an advantage under the current Electoral College landscape, according to the Cook Political Report.

But some are not happy about the idea of Maine joining the compact, and the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that it received a filing for a people’s veto of the national popular vote bill on May 10 submitted by James DuPrie of Lebanon. Several Republican state lawmakers (Reps. Jeffrey Adams of Lebanon, David Boyer of Poland, John Andrews of South Paris and Barbara Bagshaw of Windham) also appear on the filing. 

In an interview, DuPrie argued that moving to the national popular vote would minimize Mainers’ voting power in presidential elections. (The current system provides smaller states with more statistical influence than a national popular vote structure would). As a result, he said Mainers deserve a say on the matter. 

“Regardless of whether or not you think the popular vote is a good idea, that is not a decision that should be coming from the top,” he said. “That’s not a legislative decision, that’s a decision that should come from the voters.” 

DuPrie — who said he has been active in local politics and within the Maine GOP but hasn’t spearheaded a statewide referendum before — also believes the popular vote is the wrong way to elect a president. Under that system, he argued that big cities would have a stronger sway over the results than places like Maine. Still, he said that critique is of secondary importance to allowing voters to have a say via a referendum. 

In pushing for the bill, however, proponents have cast the national popular vote compact as a basic democracy reform and argued that the candidate with the most total votes should win the presidency. Supporters also say the compact would safeguard the principle of one person, one vote and move the country away from a system that currently magnifies the influence of a small handful of swing states at the expense of other states such as Maine.  

“I for one believe that my vote is not worth more, nor is it worth less, than any other adult American who exercises their right to vote regardless of which U.S. state that they happen to live in,” Sen. Nicole Grohoski (D-Hancock) said in March.  

As the people’s veto effort gets underway, DuPrie acknowledged that the campaign has little time to waste. State law provides 90 days from the adjournment of the legislative session to turn in at least 67,682 valid signatures — equal to 10% of the votes cast for governor in 2022 — meaning the campaign has until Aug. 8.

DuPrie said the goal is to have every polling location staffed with signature-gatherers for the state’s June 11 primary elections, although he admitted that might be difficult. The campaign will also be attending other political events and gatherings like town fairs to try to collect the necessary number of petitions.  

Once the signatures are turned in, the Secretary of State’s office has 30 business days to review them. If the office determines the petition benchmark has been met, LD 1578 would be stayed and the question of whether Maine will join the national popular vote compact would go to the voters. 

However, Secretary of State’s office spokesperson Emily Cook said the issue can’t go on this year’s ballot if notice of the referendum is given fewer than 60 days before the general election. Therefore, signatures would have to be verified and a proclamation for a people’s veto referendum sent out by Sept. 6 for the issue to appear on the November 2024 ballot. 

Given that, Cook said whether the people’s veto appears on the November ballot depends on “when the signatures are turned in and how quickly we are able to review them.” If the campaign gathers the needed signatures but they aren’t reviewed in time for the issue to go on the 2024 ballot, it would be voted on during the next statewide or general election in Maine. 

DuPrie said his primary focus right now is on the signature-collecting effort. However, he said he’d prefer the referendum to happen in 2024 because it’s a presidential year where voter turnout is likely to be higher.