The United States' electoral college system of electing a president is an eccentric one. And within the quirks of this nominating mechanism, there are two states that have added their own spin to assigning votes for the next POTUS: Nebraska and Maine. There are the only two states that do not award their presidential electors in “winner-take-all” fashion, instead apportioning some votes based on district-specific performance.
Maine has four electoral college votes, and two of those will go to the candidate who “wins” the state overall. But the other two votes are different. For its two congressional districts, Maine gives one vote per piece to whoever wins that particular bloc.
On to Nebraska, which has five electoral votes to bestow. One goes to the statewide victor, the other four to the individual winner in each of its districts. Nebraska is one of the most reliably-red states in the nation, so it’s no surprise that Republican legislators recently tried to change their apportioned system to “winner-take-all.” They have not yet succeeded, so it is possible that Hillary Clinton might pick off a Cornhusker vote or two, à la Barack Obama in 2008.
As mentioned earlier, the electoral college system is peculiar. Individual votes do not go directly to electing a president, but rather to choosing electors. Each state has a set number of electors, based on population, which is why swing states become a staple of campaigns.
Gaining the presidency comes down to winning states, not the popular vote. The golden number is 270. On election night (and probably well before), news hosts will bring out their various maps to show what “paths” candidates might have towards that magical 2-7-0. Here's Joe Trippi's prediction, from 2012. These types of color-coded maps with electoral counts will be ubiquitous in coming weeks:
If the race were truly close, Maine's one extra electoral vote could mean the difference between heading to the Oval Office or conceding a brutally close defeat. As Kate Carlisle of Colby College explained, the roughly half-million residents of northern Maine could vote for Clinton, even if Trump won everywhere else. In a tight race, that one vote could mean the difference between a 269-269 tie.
Aaron Zitner at The Wall Street Journal points out that the race could be that close if a few things happened. If Trump won both Florida and Ohio, for instance — two states that President Obama carried in 2012. The most recent Florida poll shows Clinton up by four points, but in Ohio Trump still has a slight edge over Clinton. Sure, Trump would have to win some other states Romney lost too... but if all the stars aligned (or bumbled themselves), it could come down to those one or two free-ball votes in Maine and Nebraska.
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