Home / Blog / Article




November 1 2019

Should the Electoral College stay or go?

by Beverly Hallberg

On this week’s episode, the director of Save Our States Trent England joins to discuss the Electoral College. With November 2020 only a little over a year away, there’s a national debate heating up over whether the Electoral College is still relevant. Trent joins to defend the Electoral College and explain why switching to a popular vote to determine our leadership would cause great harm to America’s rural communities.

Trent England is the director of Save Our States, is an expert on the Electoral College, and regularly testifies against the National Popular Vote as bills come up in various state legislatures around the country. From NBC News to NPR affiliates to BuzzFeed News, Trent is a sought after commentator on presidential elections. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Daily Wire, and other publications, and is a contributor to two books—"The Heritage Guide to the Constitution” and “One Nation Under Arrest.” He previously hosted The Trent England Show and has guest hosted for Ben Shapiro.

Beverly H.:
And welcome to She Thinks Podcast, where you're allowed to think for yourself. I'm your host Beverly Hallberg. And on today's episode, we discuss the Electoral College, the system in our country that determines who becomes president. It's become a popular topic in the news and trendy to attack the Electoral College as outdated. So what should we do? Do we need to modernize our system so then a national popular vote determines who leads this country, or are there important reasons why our founders put the Electoral College in place?

Beverly H.:
Fortunately, we have an expert on today to break it all down. Trent England is joining us. Trent is the Director of Save Our States, is an expert on the Electoral College and regularly testifies against the national popular vote as bills come up in various state legislatures around the country. From NBC News to NPR affiliates to BuzzFeed News, Trent is a sought-after commentator on presidential elections. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Daily Wire, among others and is a contributor to two books, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest. He previously hosted the Trent England Show, and has guest hosted for Ben Shapiro. Trent, so good to have you on today.

Trent England:
Yeah, I'm really glad to be here, Beverly.

Beverly H.:
So since you posted your own radio show before, you can give me tips if there's anything I need to change. So I'm glad we have an expert radio host and podcast star on here as well. But to just start us off today, I thought we would just start from the beginning. Let's talk about the Electoral College. What is it? How does it work? Break it down for us.

Trent England:
Yeah, it's not as confusing as some people think, I hope. And I usually explain it this way, the Electoral College it's like a pop-up Congress that exist to do just one thing, which is to elect the president of the United States. And just like Congress, these are actually elected officials. Presidential electors are real people. They're elected officials elected in the states. And when we think about a presidential election, we usually just think right past all of that. It'd be like thinking about Congress, but just thinking about the walls that they pass. That's the end result, but there is this process that has to happen.

Trent England:
And so here in Oklahoma where I live, the political parties, the Democrats, the Republicans and the Libertarians are on the ballot in 2020. So they will each get together at a state party convention next year. They will nominate people to be their presidential electors. And in the case of Oklahoma, it's seven because each state has the same number of presidential electors and electoral votes as they have in Congress. So we have five members of the US House and of course two senators. So we get seven electoral votes. And if the Republicans win Oklahoma next year in the presidential race, which is a pretty safe bet in Red Oklahoma, then the Republican nominees will become Oklahoma's presidential electors. And they will go on to cast Oklahoma's official votes for president.

Trent England:
So, again, it's complicated. I mean, it's more complicated than just having a direct election, but it is just like Congress. And that's not a mistake, that's the reason why it was created. The founders liked the compromise that created our Congress and the Constitution. And when they got to figuring out how to elect a president, they said, "Hey, let's use that compromise. Let's respect states. Let's give a little boost to the smallest states and keep the power down in this state, not put the power in Washington, D.C." And they came up with our Electoral College, which we've used with very minor modification since the very beginning of our country, since George Washington.

Beverly H.:
Now, isn't it true that the electors they can change who they want to vote for? So there's nothing tying them to cast a vote for a certain individual? Is that the case?

Trent England:
Yeah, that is true and was just reaffirmed by the Tenth Circuit federal court out in Denver, just said, "Hey, look, these are elected officials, they can vote how they want." The reality is they're nominated by a political party. So while every once in a while we see presidential electors and we saw more of this in 2016 than we had in recent memory, we'll see them saying, "Well, I want to send a message. And so I'm going to cast my electoral vote, not for Hillary Clinton, but for Bernie Sanders or somebody else." It's typically only to send a message. These are partisans. They want their party's nominee to take office. So while they can exercise their own judgment, the system's actually pretty predictable.

Beverly H.:
And you talked a little bit about just the founders and why they wanted to do this, but I know that there's also... we have some information talking about the fear that they have as far as having a pure democracy that we don't have a pure democracy in the States. Why was there a fear of that?

Trent England:
Yeah, so one way to think about is the most undemocratic parts of the Constitution are our Bill of Rights. Every check and balance, every limit on government power, every clause in the Bill of Rights, all of that is checking the power, not just the politicians, but of majorities in our country to do things. We believe that democracy is a way to make decisions, a way to elect officials, but democracy doesn't determine right or wrong. And there are things that are more important than democracy, like protecting individual rights, like having a stable political system. And so, yeah, the American founders were very wary of anything that looked like pure democracy.

Trent England:
And at the Constitutional Convention, actually, James Madison stood up talking about presidential elections and he said, "Look, you know what? A direct popular vote sounds really good. And Madison basically says, "Hey, look, in theory, I could go for that because it sounds simple and it's easy to understand." But the problem, Madison said is it in practice, in real life, the way it would actually work is that the biggest cities would just be in control all the time and nobody else would really have a voice.

Trent England:
And the funny thing is James Madison was concerned about two states and really two urban areas, one of them being New York City. And that hasn't changed. New York City is still the big city in the country, one of our biggest cities in the country and still has tremendous political power. We could add to that Los Angeles and Chicago now. And the other for Madison was Virginia. Virginia was a very populous state. And of course, Virginia, the D.C. area still has quite a bit of political power. So James Madison almost 250 years ago recognize some of the same problems that we would run into today if we just had a big national election.

Beverly H.:
Now, of course, the controversy over the Electoral College usually picks up if the national popular vote is larger as it goes to one candidate, but the Electoral College actually goes for another candidate. So there are only been five US presidents who've won the Electoral College without receiving the most votes nationwide. So most recently, the current president, president Donald J. Trump in 2016, you had George W. Bush in 2000. But it had been since 1888 prior to that, Benjamin Harrison, then you had Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, and John Quincy Adams in 1824. So are you finding that this is a topic of conversation just because it's happened now twice since 2000, and that it went in the way of the Republicans against against the Democrat? Is that why we're seeing this?

Trent England:
Certainly, there's partisan sour grapes that are a big part of this. Nobody likes to lose. And it's human nature when you lose a contest to question maybe the rules just weren't fair. And so we hear that from Democrats, and it's understandable. They would rather have a set of rules that made it easier for them to win with their current political coalition, which is centered on the big cities. And so if we did away with the Electoral College, that would obviously make it a lot easier for them to win without reaching beyond the big cities very much. So, yeah, I think that's a big part of it.

Trent England:
I think we also have the challenge in our country that a lot of people don't... they've forgotten the importance of checks and balances and limits on power. And I think a lot of Americans have gotten so used to our country being very successful. And we haven't done a great job of teaching history that people think, "Well, we just simplify all this. Instead of trying to learn about the Electoral College and understand why this is a good thing, let's just throw it out and do something simpler." And people have forgotten the lessons of history that our founders knew so well.

Beverly H.:
And I want to let everybody know that's listening that Independent Women's Forum has some great resources on this. If you go to iwf.org, there is a link to an Electoral College legal brief. And also if you want to take a quiz, it's kind of fun. You should take the quiz after this podcast. You can see how well you understand elections and the Electoral College. So a couple of quizzes on that, do check it out. But I want to turn to really some of the recent attacks we're hearing about the Electoral College most recently by Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is called this racist. She calls it a scam. The narrative on this is going to a new level. What do you say to people who claim that this is a racist system?

Trent England:
Well, this has become for some people the laziest way for them to attack whatever they don't like in our Constitution. She's not out there claiming that First Amendment freedom of speech is racist. But of course, the First Amendment was added to the Constitution by the founding generation right after they approved the Constitution. She's not claiming that the House of Representatives is racist. They pick and choose whatever they don't like in the Constitution, they claim is racist because it's easier than thinking. And that's really the problem. If you go back and look at the politics that created the Constitution, of course, there was politics and there was a compromise. The reality is that the states in the areas they were trying to protect with the Electoral College, were not all in the South, they weren't all in the North.

Trent England:
As I mentioned before, the big states that were a concern, one was in the South, one was Virginia, the other was in the North, was New York. And so the claim that the Electoral College is somehow racist just doesn't make a lot of sense. And actually, Vernon Jordan, who some people will remember a prominent African American Democrat back in the 1970s actually commented on the fact that from his point of view, the Electoral College often worked to to help African Americans because it focus the election in such a way that at least what he believed in the 1960s and '70s was that it was making African Americans more important in the democratic coalition than they would otherwise be. So this is politics, easy for some people to say it's racist. But if they really look at the history, I think they'll discover that if anything, the opposite is the case.

Trent England:
Actually, Beverly, you mentioned a couple of those elections after the Civil War, 1876 and 1888, and the reality in 1876 is that the Electoral College prevented the Democrats from stealing the White House because the Democrats only won the most popular votes in that election probably. Most people think this is true. I think it's actually pretty obvious looking at the previous election results, the Democrats won the popular vote because they had gotten so good at racist vote suppression in the South. And the Electoral College was able to contain some election disputes in that election and prevent racist vote suppression from actually winning the white house in 1876. And then it forced the Democrats over a series of elections to reach out in the North because they needed to win some Northern and some of the new Western States. They couldn't just run up the score in the deep South through fraud or legitimately. They actually had to reach out further and it forced the Democrats to be a national coalition party and not just be the post-Civil War sort of Ku Klux Klan affiliated political organization that might have otherwise been the case.

Beverly H.:
Well, I know with your organization, you're fighting to keep the Electoral College in place because of even the historical examples you just mentioned there and why it's so important. But yet, you do have people who are still waging a war against the Electoral College. So is part of this trying to get it changed prior to November 2020? And if so, what type of ways do they want to change us? What are the two fronts are waging this on?

Trent England:
Yeah, I'm really glad you asked that question because a lot of people tell me, "Well, hey, look, they just can't do that. They'd have to amend the Constitution and that's really hard, and it's not going to happen." And that is correct in the short run, at least. It's hard to amend the Constitution. We can thank the founders for that. And so while there are amendments that have been proposed in Congress, they're not going to go anywhere in the short run. But the strategy that they're using... and the reason I created Save Our States 10 years ago is because after the 2000 election, some very wealthy Al Gore supporters got together and said, "We want to find another way to get rid of the Electoral College that's easier than amending the Constitution." And what they came up with is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, or people just call it NPV, National Popular Vote.

Trent England:
And here's how it works, and this is really... you have to give them credit. This is very clever. State legislatures have under our Constitution a lot of latitude in how these presidential electors get selected. And so national popular vote is a piece of state legislation where states can say, "Hey, we're just going to ignore how people vote in our state. We're not going to elect our presidential electors based on what the people of Colorado think or New Mexico or wherever. We're going to elect our presidential electors based on the national popular vote." So people think this through, if enough states do that, then it basically hijacks the Electoral College and changes it from being a state-based system to being a direct national election. So, again, very clever. Now, they put a trigger in it.

Trent England:
It doesn't go into effect just because New York has passed this, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California. There are 15 States that have passed this, but it doesn't take it back to any of those states. Unless they get enough states, that they would actually control the outcome of the election. They get enough states where they would have 270 electoral votes or more, and that's a majority that controls the outcome of presidential election. So that's what I've been primarily working against because not only would they hijack the Electoral College and basically eliminate all the benefits of the Electoral College, keeping power over elections at the state level and preventing regionalism and all these things that the Electoral College does for us, it's also a really unstable way to change our election system.

Trent England:
And I was actually just reading something written by one of the attorneys who came up with this whole national popular vote scheme. And he said, "Well, what we really want is to just create so much instability that people will then amend the Constitution and throw the whole thing out." So that's really their endgame. But we have to fight against this National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in states around the country and help state legislatures understand just what a dangerous and shortsighted idea it would be to get rid of the Electoral College.

Beverly H.:
And in your opinion, you mentioned the states that they've already seen success in. What is the likelihood that they would be able to get rid of the Electoral College this way? Is that something where you say in the near future this could happen if organizations like you weren't fighting against it?

Trent England:
Yeah, the challenging thing is that the Electoral Colleges it's sort of obscure. And on the one hand, it seems like a national issue, on the other hand, they're doing this in state legislatures. And so there isn't really anybody else out there working against this in all the states across the country, which is what we do. We've managed to stop this in state after state. And it's true if we weren't there, this already would have taken effect if... not only by 2020, it may have taken effect before 2016 if we hadn't been doing this work for the last decade. So it's a real threat, and we are very concerned that they know they probably... that's very unlikely they could get this done at this point before 2020.

Trent England:
But we have seen their whole campaign really gearing up this year. They forced it through in Colorado, New Mexico, Delaware and Oregon. Now, Colorado, thankfully, we have got it on the ballot to repeal it next year. So Colorado may repeal national popular vote next year, which would be a great win for our Constitution. But now, Save Our States is we are doing everything we can to fight this and always looking for allies in the states who want to help us educate legislators about just how important our system of states and our Constitution are.

Beverly H.:
And just in wrapping up, final question for you. I'm just curious if somebody out there is listening and they say, "I want to be an elector, I want to be able to cast a vote for my party," how does somebody become that? Where do you go? What do you do for that?

Trent England:
That's a great question. So those people come from their political party. So if somebody is a Democrat, then they need to get involved in their Democrat Party politics. If they're a Republican, they need to get involved with their Republican Party. Oftentimes, that starts at the county level. Yeah, well, pretty much always starts at the county level or even below that at the precinct level, where people show up to those meetings and get involved and make themselves known to people and volunteer in the party. And once the State political party conventions happen next year, then they can say, "Hey, I want to run for this," and the parties will actually... they'll vet people because they want to make sure that people are going to vote for their party's nominee. And then they'll hold a vote at the State political party conventions next year and nominate people. And if your party wins the presidential race in your state, then you get to be a presidential elector.

Beverly H.:
Whether you have it, now people know how to go and do it. So, Trent, thank you so much for letting us know how we can do that if we'd want to, but also for all the work that your organization is doing and that you personally are doing. And it's a pleasure to have you on today. So thank you.

Trent England:
It's my pleasure, Beverly. Thank you so much.

Beverly H.:
And thank you all for joining us. If you have more interest in the topic we discussed, you can of course check out Trent England and the work of Save Our states at saveourstates.com, that's saveourstates.com. And do checkout iwf.org for all issues related to the Electoral College. I also wanted to let you know of a great podcast you should subscribe to in addition to She Thinks. It's called Problematic Women, and it's hosted by Kelsey Bolar and Lauren Evans, where they both sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning or problematic women. That is women whose views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so-called feminist left.

Beverly H.:
Every Thursday, hear them talk about everything from pop culture to policy and politics by searching for Problematic Women wherever you get your podcasts. Last, if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or a review on iTunes, it does help. And we'd love it if you share this episode and let your friends know where they can find more She Thinks episodes from all of us here at Independent Women's Forum. Thanks for listening.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us