AUGUSTA — As goes Maine, so went no other state.
On Monday, 538 electors gathered in state capitals and the District of Columbia to cast ballots in the Electoral College, the official selection of the next president and vice president of the United States. But no locale had the historical significance of Maine, which had two surprise twists during what is typically a pompless and understated hourlong ceremony in the State House.
This Electoral College marked the first time that Maine’s four electors have divided since the state in 1972 started to allocate one electoral vote for each of its two congressional districts, plus another two votes for the statewide winner (Nebraska is currently the only other state to pick its electors statewide and by congressional district).
The day would also mark the first time Maine has awarded an Electoral College vote to a Republican since 1988. On Nov. 8, the state’s Second District voted for Donald Trump.
As the ceremony began at the State House, the electors sat next to each other in the front row of the chamber. But one was missing: Sam Shapiro, 89, couldn’t make it back from Florida in time to cast his ballot. He was replaced by Betty Johnson, 77, of Lincolnville, to serve as a delegate for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
But the buzz of the day centered not on Shapiro’s replacement or even the sole Republican elector — who delivered Trump his lone Electoral College vote in New England. Earlier in the day, Democrat David Bright announced on Facebook that he planned to vote for US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and Clinton’s primary foe, instead of her.
Bright, a 68-year-old Sanders supporter who co-owns BrightBerry Farm in Dixmont, Maine, did just that on the first ballot. But Johnson ruled it out of order since, under state rules, electors can only choose candidates on the ballot.
The room gasped, and Bright appeared stunned —
Maine is one of 30 states that binds electors to the will of the state’s voters. What’s more, Bright would likely be impeached — perhaps even arrested and charged for a misdemeanor — if he kept writing Sanders on his ballot.
When electors were given a second ballot, Bright wrote in Clinton, giving her the 3-1 win in the state. (Hours later, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by acquiring the necessary 270 votes nationwide to secure the presidency. )
But for Bright, it wasn’t about Clinton, he said, but rather about inspiring the youth who helped Sanders easily defeat Clinton in the Democratic caucuses in the state.
“I wanted to say that I hear you, and I want you to stay engaged,” Bright said.
Before the Electoral College officially took place, about 100 GOP activists gathered outside of the state Republican headquarters in frigid temperatures. They munched on doughnuts and drank coffee before forming human shields around the lone Republican elector, Richard Bennett, as he marched through a gauntlet of protesters on the way to cast his ballot.
Republicans carried signs that read “Making America Great Again“and “CNN is State News,” as they mingled and chanted. Protestors held signs that read “Get Your Orange Hands Off Me” and “Making Russia Great Again.”
“I thought, you know, it is a quiet thing, you go to the State House, they vote, and nobody pays any attention,” said Bennett about being a delegate. “I went once or twice (to other Electoral Colleges) and the chamber was empty, nobody was there, just political wonks. But now it is suddenly a big deal.”
As the nearly 1,000 people stood in a long winding line to get out of the cold and in through metal detectors, the crowd broke into song — “God Bless America.”