Counterpoint: The Founders versus the National Popular Vote

By Trent England, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Originally posted at Missouri Scorecard.

The American Founders designed an ingenious, state-by-state method to elect the President of the United States. Today, we call it the Electoral College. While often misunderstood, it serves to keep states in control of elections and forces candidates to draw support from across the country just to have a chance at winning the presidency.

Even the Constitution’s original critics, the Anti-Federalists, generally supported the Electoral College. This allowed Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist No. 68, to remark that “if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”

Today, the Constitution’s state-by-state election system is under attack. A group called National Popular Vote (NPV) wants to manipulate the Founders’ system to get around the difficult process of changing the Constitution. NPV lobbyists are at work in state capitals across the country, including in Jefferson City.

Part of their argument is that conservatives are disadvantaged in presidential elections. This is odd, since the founder and funders of NPV are liberals. The very impetus for NPV’s campaign was that Al Gore, because his coalition of supporters was too focused in big cities, won the popular vote but lost the presidency. Directly rebutting NPV lobbyist claims, election analyst Nate Silver has shown that Democrats do not enjoy any systemic advantage under the current system. As he writes, “There is no ‘Blue Wall’.

The Electoral College works so well most Americans never really think about it. Because of the Electoral College, elections are contained within individual states. No presidential appointee in Washington, D.C is responsible for administering presidential elections. States can learn from other states experiences with measures like voter identification and different laws for ballot access or absentee voting.

NPV would take all those different systems and mash them together. It promises a “national vote,” but cannot deliver. Instead, it would render presidential elections subject to massive litigation and gaming by individual states. It would most likely fall to court challenges or lead to the nationalization of election administration–a goal of many NPV supporters.

Since George Washington, every presidential election has happened state-by-state. The Electoral College is a part of the constitutional fabric and the historical record of the exceptional success of the United States. Altering that fabric, especially in pursuit of short-term political advantage, would put the republic at risk.

Trent England

Trent England serves as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he also is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty and directs the Center for the Constitution & Freedom and the Save Our States project. He is the National Coordinator for Liberty Foundation of America and an adjunct fellow of the Freedom Foundation.

He hosts two radio programs every weekday on Oklahoma’s AM 1640, “The Eagle.” From 7 to 9 a.m., Trent hosts the station’s morning drive program, MiddleGround Radio. From 9 to 10 a.m., he takes listeners deeper into the issues and ideas that matter on The Thoughtful Patriot. He has also filled in as host of other radio programs, including Seattle’s The Ben Shapiro Show, and is the co-host of MiddleGround TV on Oklahoma City’s Fox25.

Trent previously served as Executive Vice President of the Olympia, Washington-based Freedom Foundation and had also directed the Foundation’s constitutional studies programs and Citizen Action Network. He was a candidate for the Washington State House of Representatives in 2006 and earlier served as a legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.