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How Maine’s unique voting system may play out this election

Maine is the only state, apart from Nebraska, that divides its four electoral votes. In 2016, President Trump lost the state but got one electoral college vote, as he won one of the state’s two congressional districts. Maine Public Radio’s Chief Political Correspondent Steven Mistler joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the two campaigns, polls, and how Maine’s ranked-choice voting results could impact the overall election.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For the political state of play in Maine, I spoke with Steven Mistler, chief political correspondent for Maine Public Radio.

  • Steven Mistler:

    Well, right now, President Trump is in big trouble in Maine statewide. Joe Biden has a ten to 12 point lead here, according to the latest polls.

    But Maine is also very unique in the sense that it divides its electoral votes. It's one of just two states that does that. And in the 2nd Congressional District, we have just two here, President Trump is actually running neck and neck with Joe Biden. And that result could be a big deal going forward if there happens to be a very close race in the Electoral College.

    I mean, it's four years ago President Trump campaigned here a half dozen times and was able to win that 2nd Congressional District, which has one electoral vote, which would've figured pretty prominently if there was a close race that time. It wasn't–he didn't need it then, but he might need it this year.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And how have the campaigns dedicated their resources in Maine?

  • Steven Mistler:

    Well, it's interesting. Joe Biden, he has really just begun to have a ground game here. You know, he didn't have a statewide state director until this summer. He didn't campaign at all here or even send surrogates in the primary that we had back in March.

    President Trump, on the other hand, has sent his family members here, their various surrogates from his campaign. They've been here. He came here in June to tour a swab factory in rural Maine. And, you know, I'm not sure if he'll make it back here this time because of the coronavirus infection that he had. He might have other priorities in bigger states with more electoral votes. But he was on the map or he was on the radar potentially to come here. We were thinking he would up until his diagnosis.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So the Trump campaign, at least in the amount of resources that it's devoted, still thinks that it's a winnable state. And there's still, it's not a write off for them or a foregone conclusion. What are the issues that are driving people right now? What are the things that they're most concerned about?

  • Steven Mistler:

    Well, I think it's pretty reflective of what you see in other parts of the country. I mean, coronavirus is a huge issue. Even though the state has done a pretty good job of holding off its infection rates, we've done quite well here. Our governor has managed to strike a balance between allowing some economic activity and also keeping down caseloads in the death rate.

    But that is still top of mind. People are very worried about it. The economy is always an issue. But, of course, the coronavirus and the economy are pretty much linked at this point. And so, you know, those are the two big issues.

    Health care is a big issue. That's certainly an issue that Democrats are running on here. And, you know, those are the main ones at the moment.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    On election night, or possibly the days after the election, what should we be on the lookout for when it comes to numbers from Maine or election-related, voting-related issues from Maine?

  • Steven Mistler:

    Well, a couple of things. If there is a close race in the 2nd Congressional District, that race will be decided by ranked-choice voting, which means that we may not know the winner of that particular district for some time. It could take a week, because what happens is, you know, if nobody, neither candidate obtains an outright majority, it goes to a rank choice runoff. And that requires state officials basically going to every single town in the state and we have over 400 of them and collecting paper ballots and then bringing them back to our state capital and then running that tabulation. But that takes time.

    And so we may not know then on election night who won that 2nd Congressional District. If the polls are right, we'll probably know who won statewide, especially if Joe Biden can hold on to that big lead.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Steve Mistler, thanks so much.

  • Steven Mistler:

    Thank you.

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