Law & Principles
Trent England | September 2, 2014
State by State is the Right Way to Elect a President
Why are liberal partisans trying to change the rules for presidential elections? And why have some right-leaning legislators, even here in Oklahoma, jumped on board?
Unsurprisingly, the answer to the first question goes back to Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush.
Gore received the most individual votes, but his support was concentrated in big cities. With his voters more evenly distributed around the country, Bush won a majority of Electoral College votes and thus the presidency.
The Electoral College works this way, rewarding candidates who have broad, national support. Presidential elections are really 51 separate elections, one in each state and in the District of Columbia. The Constitution gives each state the same number of electoral votes as it has members of the U.S. House and Senate (Oklahoma, with five House members and two Senators, has seven electoral votes). To win the presidency, a candidate must win a majority of electoral votes.
In the wake of the 2000 election, a wealthy Gore supporter from California named John Koza made it his mission to get rid of the Electoral College. Koza created a group and a plan, both called National Popular Vote (NPV).
While others have tried to change or eliminate the Electoral College, NPV is unique because it would not amend the Constitution. Instead, NPV leaves the constitutional structure in place, but manipulates how it works in order to render it meaningless.
Under the current system, when Oklahomans vote for president, their votes together decide which candidate wins Oklahoma’s electoral votes. If the state adopted Koza’s plan, the votes of Oklahomans wouldn’t matter, at least not in the same way. Instead, Oklahoma’s electoral votes would be given away to the candidate with the most votes nationwide regardless of how Oklahomans actually voted. That means in 2012 Oklahoma would have cast its electoral votes for Barack Obama—even though two-thirds of Oklahomans voted against him.
NPV is an attempt to undo the constitutional system of electing the president state by state, without going through the difficult and deliberate process of actually changing the Constitution.
The plan is fitting revenge for Gore’s loss, since NPV would shift political power toward urban areas. Indeed, that is one practical reason liberals, the beneficiaries of urban political machines, support Koza’s plan.
NPV is not merely about practical politics, however. The effort is part of a long-term agenda to move away from constitutional checks and balances and toward more direct democracy, a radical departure from American principles and the Founders’ design.
So far only the deepest blue states, places like Massachusetts and California, have signed on to NPV. Yet the plan takes effect only if adopted by states representing a majority of electoral votes; thus it cannot succeed by blue states alone. Nearly all of NPV’s lobbying is now directed at Republican legislators in red states—places like Oklahoma.
The lobbying budget is immense, with millions of dollars from Koza, Jonathan Soros (son of liberal financier George Soros), and New York billionaire Tom Golisano. Many legislators have been taken on expenses-paid trips where well-paid NPV lobbyists—a few are former Republican legislators—pressure them to sign on between rounds of drinks. This is hardly how citizens expect their representatives to handle constitutional issues.
The American Founders intended for presidents to be elected by a state-by-state process, which is how we have done it since George Washington. John Koza’s National Popular Vote plan would throw all that out, diminishing the voice of Oklahomans and undermining our constitutional system of states.
Trent England, former executive vice president of the Seattle-based Freedom Foundation, has joined the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs as vice president for strategic initiatives and as holder of a prestigious chair.
“This is a real coup for OCPA and for Oklahoma,” said OCPA president Michael Carnuccio. “Trent England is one of the rising national stars in the free-market think tank movement. He will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to OCPA and to our ongoing efforts to carry the message of liberty throughout Oklahoma and the nation.”
England earned a degree in government from Claremont McKenna College and a law degree from George Mason University. Prior to his service with the Freedom Foundation in Seattle, he worked as a legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
In Seattle, England directed key advocacy efforts by the Freedom Foundation and was an advisor and contributor to the State Policy Network’s “We the People” curriculum. England also directs the “Save Our States” project, which is dedicated to preserving the Electoral College and warning of the dangers of the National Popular Vote initiative.
England is a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, which provides “a brief and accurate explanation of each clause of the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers and as applied in contemporary law,” The Heritage Foundation says. And though “its particular aim is to provide lawmakers with a means to defend their role and to fulfill their responsibilities in our constitutional order,” it is “written to be explanatory and educational, accessible, and helpful for informed citizens and students of the Constitution generally.” The book is available online at heritage.org/constitution.
England is also a contributor to One Nation under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and numerous other publications.
At OCPA, England will direct the organization’s Center for the Constitution and Freedom and will hold the chair as the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty, a fellowship previously held by the legendary J. Rufus Fears. England will also serve as national coordinator for the Liberty Foundation of America, OCPA’s national affiliate organization dedicated to federalism.
“I am profoundly excited to join the OCPA team that has so successfully advanced policies based on our nation’s founding principles,” England said. “It is a measure of OCPA’s effectiveness that it has a national reputation and now a national affiliate in the Liberty Foundation.
“Abraham Lincoln predicted, in his first recorded speech, that the natural strength of the United States means the nation will stand so long as the people remain united and dedicated to our founding principles. Today we are divided over those very ideas,” England said. “OCPA is dedicated to reviving our nation by reuniting the people and our public officials around those ideas, those principles.
“My own personal mission is to return our nation to constitutional fidelity based on the principles that are the bedrock beneath our Constitution and the American Founding.”
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.