If America abolished the electoral college and opted for a popular vote, “you would need zero minorities to win…You could win the presidency with only white people,” says M.A. Taylor, the director of “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.”
There are growing calls to eliminate the electoral college and criticisms that it’s racist, but what many do not realize is that the electoral college actually amplifies the voices of ethnic minorities in America, Taylor says.
In this episode, Taylor explains what the electoral college actually does, common misconceptions around it and what would happen if it no longer existed.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Matt Taylor, It’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Matt Taylor: Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here today.
Mr. Jekielek: Matt, we’re just a few weeks away from the election, November 3rd. A lot of people are talking about something they don’t often talk about: the Electoral College.
Mr. Taylor: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: In the film it’s described as a strange beast by Professor Spalding.
Mr. Taylor: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I never imagined someone would actually make a film about the Electoral College. Before we go into that, why don’t you just tell me what exactly is the Electoral College? And how does it work?
Mr. Taylor: Well that is a topic which has a PhD attached to it. It’s a very complicated kind of answer. But on the other hand, it’s also quite simple. The Electoral College is a method in the constitution for selecting the President of the United States, who is the executive of the United States.
The way it essentially works is that every state has an election. And that state gets to determine how that election awards a certain number of electors to who will be the president. To simplify it, take a state like California, which has 55 electoral votes. What is an electoral vote? It’s actually a person named “an elector” that the state chooses, and whichever democratic way that state goes, all of those electors will be awarded to the president, and the president has to get 270 electoral votes by accumulating all of these elections all over the country, to become the president. And that’s how the system works.
It’s a system that has largely been intact since its conception with some minor changes in the early days, with the 12th amendment and other things. But for the most part, that’s how we elect our president, by these 51 different elections that happen throughout the United States. And then it’s all accumulated, and you become the president on January 20.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things I didn’t know, which I learned in the film, was just how you decide how many electors or electoral votes there are. And it’s just the number of congressional members. You go quite deep, but in an unexpectedly engaging way in this film. What is the genesis of this?
Mr. Taylor: Well, the electoral college is one of those things that people don’t think about. And I don’t blame them for not thinking about it. It comes up once every four years for a couple months. It is kind of an abstracted system; it’s just been around.
But in the 21st century, we’ve had a couple incidents where the popular vote has not lined up with the electoral college vote. That’s two in the 21st century. There have been five total in the entire history of the United States. So it has become more of a topic in the last 20 years or so. What’s really important is to understand why we have it, where it came from, and what are some of the consequences if you tinker with the system?
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it is also really interesting, because for a lot of people around the world in democratic societies, [it is different]. For example, parliamentary democracy is a typical model, and that’s actually quite different from the U.S. The U.S. has the executive chosen independently of parliament, which is quite interesting. And, of course, the electoral college figures in here.
So one of the big charges against the Electoral College, which I’ve seen leveled is just simply that it’s actually undemocratic. Actually, if most people want things to be a particular way, or most people want to choose a particular person to be the president, it seems obvious that it should be that way. So the film obviously speaks to this. Tell me about this.
Mr. Taylor: Well, we speak to democracy in the film in a very interesting way, because we are not a democracy. And people go, “Oh, my goodness!” No, we’re basically a constitutional republic. The country has never been a democracy, but there are democratic systems all throughout the Constitution. So, essentially we vote elected representatives to then represent us, like a republic in a government body. The idea that it’s 51 to 49 was never really part of the system.
Now, it does play into the individual states, because as a country that is under a federalist system, the states have a lot of rights in how they elect their electors and how they conduct their business. And that is separate from the federal government.
The idea is that what the founders did not want was mob rule. They didn’t want 51 percent of people just saying, “We don’t like this,” and it’s gone. We have fundamental rights. The Bill of Rights is the most undemocratic part of the constitution because it says no matter how much you want a national church, you can’t have one, no matter how much you want to ban free speech, these are rights that are fundamentally yours, that are not up to a democratic vote.
Democracy is respected. It is important as part of the system, but we are just technically not really a democracy. We are a republic and a constitutional republic, because the Constitution, again, stops the democratic mob from voting against a minority or suppressing a minority.
Mr. Jekielek: So Matt, what would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions around the electoral college that you came across?
Mr. Taylor: [This is] a really important aspect that the electoral college protects. One of the criticisms is that it’s racist. If you take the last major presidential election we had, which is the 2016 presidential election, and you take all the people who voted in the presidential election, it was roughly 135 to 138 million people. And were you to just isolate the individual demographics, you would have roughly 35 million minorities. That’s roughly 16.5 million African Americans and 12.2 million Hispanics, and then everybody else, Asian, and so on.
If you went to a national popular vote system where everybody votes, you would need zero minorities to win the presidency. That is why the electoral college matters. You could win the presidency with only white people. Because 16.5 million African Americans is not enough to win anything.
But the way the electoral college works is if you take a state like Virginia; Virginia is 20 percent African American. So if your state is splitting out to 47 percent to 47 percent, suddenly, your minority voice becomes a tipping point of that state, which means you have amplified your voice from a tiny minority to actually mattering more than everybody else. Because you are the tipping point in those states. You’re the tipping point in Michigan, you’re the tipping point in New York, you’re the tipping point in Georgia, right?
If you had a national popular vote, and you’re a minority, you don’t matter. I don’t need you to win the election. But with the Electoral College, because it’s broken down state to state, and because the demographics are all broken up in these different ways, I do need your voice, and your voice does matter. So that is why the electoral college matters to people on the ground, because it gives you a voice.
Otherwise, for the national popular vote, why would you talk to anybody in rural areas? Why would you talk to anybody who is a racial minority, or an economic minority, or a sexual minority? These are all tiny numbers. When you just talk about just numbers; I will just pick the areas where I can get the most numbers, the least diverse, and I can win an election.
The electoral college stops that dead in its tracks. And it makes it so that anyone in this room right now could be the tipping point. So the candidate doesn’t know who the tipping point will be. So the candidate needs to talk to all of us and try to appeal to all of us, hence, moderating and becoming a unifier and not a divider. That is perhaps one of the most important points of why the electoral college protects people on the ground, personally and individually.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I think you actually argue this in the film. That was actually part of the purpose of it in the first place—to make sure that minority voices had a voice.
Mr. Taylor: Absolutely. Look, at the time it took a horse to get everywhere. It’s not a perfect system. I mean, there are problems. The popular vote and the electoral vote don’t always match. But there have been scenarios in history where the electoral vote has mattered so much.
For example, in the election of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln is the lowest voted president at 38 percent. He wasn’t on the ballot in a bunch of the states in the south. But his electoral win was huge. He won all the states in the northeast; he won the Mid Atlantic states; he won the midwestern states; he won the new states in the West. That electoral vote is what caused him to be the president. So without the Electoral College, there is no Emancipation Proclamation. He would not be president if it was just by popular vote.
Also, John F. Kennedy, he barely won in 1960. It’s such a tiny, tiny sliver, but his Electoral College win was massive. These are two presidents who won because of the electoral college who ushered in massive civil rights and abolition policies that changed the course of the country.
And we do owe it greatly to the Electoral College. It’s one of those systems where, if you rip it out of the clockwork of the government, it will take many other things with it and cause irreparable damage. And people will lose rights. And that’s what we don’t want. We want to protect your individual rights as a country. It’s not always perfect. But ultimately, generally speaking, it works. And we should probably just leave it alone.
Mr. Jekielek: Something comes through in the film, which I frankly hadn’t thought of before. That the system as it’s structured in the US is to facilitate democracy, but at the same time, safeguarding individual rights or liberty. That’s very interesting. From your experience, how is that different from other democratic systems that you’re aware of?
Mr. Taylor: Well, the irony is that every American is an individual. But individual rights are actually at odds with democracy. Because what is democracy? Well, it’s a whole group of people. So you have to choose one or the other. Of course this is always an issue, you know, do you want individual rights? Or do you want this kind of democracy where everybody gets one pizza? You don’t get individual pizzas, you get one pizza.
France is a direct democracy. I think they’re one of the most direct democracies in the world. And what happens is you end up just having these shifts. Or what you’ll have is many parties that win by plurality, so you actually end up getting the most votes out of 17 different people which will end up being 20 percent. It’s completely undemocratic, even though you got the most votes, technically.
And so I think that our system, while not perfect, has found a way to satisfy the most people without completely trampling minority rights. In a lot of ways minorities across a whole different spectrum become a pivot point on which the election can hinge or in which rights can be established. The electoral college is fundamentally about minority rights by not allowing a democratic mob, or majority or 50 plus one to rule over any minority already in a system.
So essentially, if you have basically just flat out democracy, it means whoever has the most votes, 50 plus one always wins. What that means is, I don’t want to have any kind of ideological or philosophical wavering. I want to have the least diverse group, but just plus one. Because what happens if you have a very diverse group, you can’t pull the coalition’s together to get 50 plus one. So you want to eliminate as much diversity as possible.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying this in terms of political strategy, basically.
Mr. Taylor: Sure, absolutely.
Mr. Jekielek: If I’m running to be elected I’m going to try to eliminate diversity. It’s counter-intuitive.
Mr. Taylor: Well, think about it right? If you have a whole series of minority groups, and they can’t get 51 percent, let’s say they’re 20 percent and 15 percent, and 12 percent, but [if your opponent] can find just one more vote than you, then they win. And then they get to determine the rules and so on and so forth. The way the founding fathers saw it was, well, that’s dangerous.
You actually break it up into tons of tiny little groups that are always warring with each other who have to form coalitions and you have to reach across the aisle to get a majority. And what does that do? It moderates your view.
So if you have 20, different tiny groups, and they all have different interests, because we’re all individuals, then it means that I have to reach across the aisle and say, hey, look, we differ in these ways. We have different opinions. But let’s figure out a way to band together and then we can vote together and we can win the election. And what that does is it ultimately creates more diversity and more coalitions.
You may get into Congress as a Democrat or Republican, but there’s 435 Congressmen and 100 Senators. They all have to answer to individual constituencies across the entire country. And this is a big country. So you may have a congressman in Alabama and you may have a congressman in Wyoming. Those are very different constituencies, and they may both be Democrats. But they still have to figure out a way to work together with different geographies and different industries. These are different places. And so it is still a coalition.
Just because a party wins a branch or a party wins multiple branches of government doesn’t mean that everything just flows in one direction. It’s constant coalition building, you’re constantly trying to work together and you’re constantly diversifying.
And that is a brilliant, beautiful system that unifies the entire country, as opposed to one geographical region or one ideology banding together to knock out everybody else. That is the beauty of the system, and that is how the electoral college underpinning brings it all together.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so that’s a super positive vision, I suppose. But it seems to stand in the face of politics today where there seems to be this very strong polarization. What we hear is we don’t have a lot of people reaching across the aisle. It just seems to be absent. So how do you square this vision of how our politics are working right now with the vision of the founding fathers, which presumably, is still in effect?
Mr. Taylor: I would argue that what is reported, and what is actually happening is very different, A Democrat in Iowa and a Democrat in Connecticut are very, very different. A Republican in Connecticut would be a Democrat in Iowa, right? You have these different political spectrums, you have different geographies and things like that.
The average person, Democrat or Republican or independent, they only differ on minor issues. There’s only so many issues, whether it’s social issues or economic issues. But for the most part, people are just people. And so once the election year comes around, there’s a lot of reporting about this, the polar aspect of politics. But it’s not as polar on the ground, as it is in Washington, or in some of these more one-party areas.
And that’s another thing—the electoral college prevents one-party highly-populated areas from dominating over the minority of the country. Because if you had basically just majority rules, then a candidate would only have to go to New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles; that’s one kind of vote. Remember, I said you just get as small and as least diverse as possible, but plus one.
So essentially, the electoral college again, makes it so that people have to diversify. And I don’t think the electorate is as polarized as is reported. If you take a person from Iowa, and you take a person from Alabama, and you take a person from Florida and a person from California. Let’s say they’re all they’re all business owners, in their different parties, they’ll find many things to agree upon.
Because again, in the United States, we know we’re a diverse country with commerce and all sorts of things going on. You’ll find that they’ll differ on certain issues, but they won’t different every issue. But you’ll find the same thing within the Democratic and within the Republican Party. You’ll find Republicans in New York are different from Republicans in Alabama, they won’t agree on many things, but they’ll agree on some things. The electoral college is one of those things that connects those people around the country together to vote for a single executive.
Mr. Jekielek: Now that’s super fascinating. The obvious thing about the elimination of the Electoral College, which is something that is being discussed right now, is that in these super high density areas on the coast there are some of these cities that would get to decide the election in a sense. So that’s the obvious thing. But there’s also a lot of things which you bring up in the film, which are not nearly as obvious. And I wonder if you could speak to that a bit.
Mr. Taylor: The electoral college is first of all, just a system. This is what’s interesting. Everyone talks about the electoral college as the boogeyman. It’s just a system. People vote, and then they select their electors, and the electors go to the candidate who got the most states. A state can choose how to allocate its electors. So not all states are winner-take-all. In fact, Nebraska and Maine are proportional delegates, so people get delegates proportionally. It is a state’s thing.
It keeps an election in the States. And this is a very important point. If you eliminate the Electoral College, the federal government would have to take over how the presidential election works.
Right now, we’re in the state of New York. New York has 29 electors. And so in New York State, everybody will vote, and whether it’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden who will get those electors, whoever gets the majority, New York state can determine that. And New York state doesn’t have to come under the rules of Virginia, or Iowa or Texas. They all get to determine how the election works, how they set their rules, what the hours are, and how they do balloting.
This is a big discussion right now about mailing ballots. But it is a state issue, and these are state’s rights, and the state can set all those things. If you got rid of the Electoral College, you would essentially get rid of the state lines that separate all those states and give them autonomy, which means the federal government would then have to control the election.
Now imagine this. If you have corruption in one of these states, because the state is self-contained, the corruption is self-contained. But if you eliminated those states, and it put it in one place, and you corrupted the federal level, then you would corrupt the entire election, and there’s no way to contain the corruption.
We saw in Florida in 2000, there was a recount. And this is very important, because we’re about to head into a potentially very contentious election in the next 22 days. And Florida had the recount in 2000. Imagine if you did not have the Electoral College, it would not contain it to that state. You would have recounts at every precinct in the country. And that means you would be counting ballots for weeks, months, or maybe even years.
Because there’s no states, there’s no rules [at the state level]. It’s one set of rules that everybody needs one more vote. So you could potentially never stop counting. Because we found some more balance here, and then we found some more balances. That’s how critical it would be. It would almost be like an Argentine election. So these are some of the issues that the electoral college eliminates.
It makes it so that fraud is contained in one one place. Because imagine if we could not name a president for months or even years, the ramifications worldwide for foreign policy and everything else would be catastrophic. So that’s one of the issues.
The other great thing about the electoral college is it eliminates candidates who are extreme. And the reason it does that is that if you have to travel around the country, you have to have a diverse number of views. I keep bringing up Iowa, Florida, and Texas. You have to have views that are more moderate, because all of these people are different.
If you just had to go to one place and find that 51 percent right in that one area, you could have extreme views, because you wouldn’t have to worry about the other 50 states. If you look at 2016, Hillary Clinton took the rust belt for granted. She didn’t go to the states and they said, “If you’re not going to visit, and you’re not going to have these views, well then we’re not going to vote for you.” It forces a candidate to get down on the ground and have moderate views. So you don’t get extremists.
In the sense, the parties then get to shave off the extremes. And this is both parties. We get more center-left, center-right candidates, which is really where the country generally sits, going back to what we talked about earlier. So these are a couple of the benefits.
It also provides the two party system. Now we hear in this country a lot of people say, “Oh, two parties. Other countries have 5 parties or 12 parties. If we didn’t have the Electoral College there would be no primaries and there would be no general election and anybody could run.” Anybody can run, that’s the assumption. Let’s get rid of the electoral college, and then we’ll have the most people vote for the candidate.
Well, what happens if 20 people run? What if 20 people run in a general election scenario, and then all of a sudden, you’re the guy who wins by only winning by 15 percent. So how democratic is that when a candidate that I’ve never heard of or voted for wins, because he found 15 percent of some group to win by plurality. And so these are a couple of the things that the electoral college safeguards us from. These are unintended consequences that would completely turn topsy turvy the election system.
We’re too big of a country. We’re 300-plus million people. And so that’s really why it was designed. Of course, the founding fathers couldn’t project the size or the scope. But it also makes it so that our election system is scalable. So the bigger it gets, the electoral college can actually scale with the size of the population, which is an important point.
Actually, we don’t even mention that in the film. But that’s a very important thing. As they added states, the electoral college was just able to scale. Because again, it binds everybody together to vote for one executive. And that executive is supposed to be the executive over the entire country, not over 15 percent of the population, not over even 51 percent of the population, but 100 percent of the population.
So that candidate is moderated, that candidate is more flexible, because again, he’s the executive. And this is the point that’s important. We mentioned this in the film that the president is an executive. That’s his job, he doesn’t make the law. He just executes the law.
That’s Congress and Senate. And then when you take how Congress and Senate are distributed among the states, with Senators and Congress, they make the laws. The President’s just supposed to sign it in or veto it out. Our political climate has made the presidency way more important than its intention was originally designed for, which makes the electoral college actually even more important as the presidency has become more politicized.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s really interesting. This corruption argument that you describe—probably the whole country is concerned about corruption in the federal government. I think we can agree.
Mr. Taylor: That’s a bipartisan concern.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. I hadn’t thought of it this way until we just spoke. But I think that the federal government corruption is probably one of the more compelling cases for the Electoral College, of which there are numerous in the film beyond even what you just talked about.
Mr. Taylor: Absolutely.
Mr. Jekielek: You know a lot about this, obviously. Have you been sitting around for years thinking about the electoral college and its importance? Did someone put you up to this? How did this come about?
Mr. Taylor: It’s an interesting topic. It’s a great history topic. It’s just one of those things where people haven’t thought about it, and it comes up every couple of years. Of course, we’ve been hearing about the idea that we’ve got to get rid of the electoral college. There has been a movement recently, the national popular vote movement. And what they have actually figured out is how to get around the Electoral College, and have made a very successful bid to get rid of it. But people don’t know this. They don’t know what’s happening.
It’s an interstate compact, which allows states to work together. Most interstate compacts are used to let highways cross over state lines, or power lines, or for different types of state sharing. But they have figured out that if they go to a state, and a state is allowed to assign its electors, they can tell the electors how to vote. And so they said, “Why don’t you go to a state government, and why don’t you tell your electors in the state to vote for whoever wins the popular vote?” And the state goes, “That sounds like a good idea because we want as many democratic votes as possible.”
But what this means is that every republican presidential candidate that were to win the presidency and get the popular vote would make California go red, even though everyone democratically voted to go blue, because California has joined this interstate compact. And so the interstate compact is probably 80 percent of the way through finishing getting enough states to allow this compact to go through.
They need 270 votes worth of states, and then one day you’ll wake up and the popular vote will say one thing, but your state will move in another direction. And so they could potentially have to get rid of the electoral college, or essentially make it inert by 2024. So people don’t know this is happening. People are not aware that this is happening. People don’t know what the electoral college is or how it works.
So we thought it’d be interesting to make a project that addresses what it is, why it’s here, and what would happen if it were not here. And so people can be informed that there are people trying to get rid of the electoral college. And look, people have been trying to get rid of the Electoral College, since the electoral college was written into the Constitution. So it’s not new. But this has been the most successful way to get rid of the electoral college without actually getting rid of the Electoral College,
Mr. Jekielek: Right. Because every electoral board votes the same way in this model.
Mr. Taylor: Absolutely. Hence, it is actually anti-democratic, because the democratic part of the electoral college is people voting in their state, where they choose to live, where they vote for things like taxes, and they vote for all these things. And so they get to vote how their electors go, and everybody respects that.
So if the whole state votes blue, and it goes red, how is that democratic? That’s not democratic at all. It is anti-democracy in a lot of ways. And so it’s important for people to be informed. Look, it’s very easy to make the argument, “Shouldn’t it be one person, one vote? Isn’t the electoral college leaving people out?” Well when you have an election, there are people who lose elections and they get left out.
But the way our system works is they can come back two or four or eight years later, and they can win. We have elections that are competitive because of systems like this. We have an electoral system that will elect Bill Clinton, then it will elect George Bush, and then it will elect Barack Obama, and then it will elect Donald Trump.
That’s super diverse. That’s a very diverse system. These are four very different people that cover very different groups of people that have binded people together. Now people can debate whether they like these people or not. But again, the system delivers a diversity that’s super fascinating and tends to generally satisfy the most people.
Mr. Jekielek: What strikes me about this, the new model that you’re describing that’s being proposed for the electoral college is to basically make it inert, or not important anymore and not relevant. It speaks to this shift towards federalism, not necessarily federalism, but the federal government having more power. In fact, federalism, I suppose, is the opposite of that.
Mr. Taylor: The opposite.
Mr. Jekielek: Exactly, exactly. That’s very interesting, because this is another tension that is really highlighted in the film.
Mr. Taylor: Federalism is another one of those murky terms that people kind of know what it is, but they really don’t know what it is. And we do talk about it, because federalism is very important. Federalism is essentially the agreement that before there was a constitution, all the states were essentially sovereign.
And we have to think about it in the context. At the beginning of the country, you basically had 13 colonies that were only bound together by the fact that they were at war with England. And there were a number of other players as well. But the fact of the matter is they were loosely bound together, and they were extremely weak. They all had their own little governments, and they all have their own little fiefdoms. What happened is they had to get together, and they had to fight the British, and eventually they were liberated.
And then they had to create a system. But they were still sovereigns. Georgia was its own sovereign place, and North Carolina was its own sovereign place. And so they came up with a way to say, “Okay, you have your sovereign rights, but you’ll agree to have a federal government that kind of pulls you all together to become a country.” And hence you have the federal government, you have the local government or the state government, and this is federalism.
And so how do you make these 13 different groups of people get together and elect a single guy, who’s the president, right? And so hence, that’s why the electoral college works that way to bind them together and then of course, scale, like we talked about earlier.
But again, these states are still sovereign. For example, one of the great things about federalism is it allows states to do things ahead of the federal government. It allows the state to be essentially a lab and experimentation place to do things. So for example, women were allowed to vote in Wyoming way before they were allowed to vote on a federal level, because the state is independent sovereign. And they can do that. It can allow its citizens to do that.
Or, for example, there is no north or south in the beginning of the country, and one-by-one states abolish slavery, because they are allowed to do that well before the federal government actually abolished slavery. And well before certain states, or before federal laws were passed for a number of things. Most of these experiments have to do with rights.
Federalism protects the state’s ability to protect people’s rights or allow them more freedom. The trajectory of this country from having slaves at one point, and women not having the vote has been to eliminate those things. You do it on a local level and that local level then scales up to the federal level.
If you get rid of the Electoral College, and you shift all the power to the federal government, then you would have to wait on a body of 535 people to get their act together to pass any of these laws, and it could take years and decades. Whereas the state can do it right away. A state can make that decision. It can be an example. And it can lead the rest of the country and usually it does.
We’ve had many states like Wyoming and the northern states for abolishing slavery lead the country into a more free society. And that’s the exciting thing about how federalism works, and also how the electoral college keeps that system intact from the federal government to the local government or state government.
Mr. Jekielek: It just strikes me it can also work to the benefit of showing everyone what you might not want to have.
Mr. Taylor: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s one of the beautiful things. We have people vote with their feet. I don’t like the state. So I’m going to go to another state. I don’t want to live in a place where everything’s the same. You have different industries, you have different laws, you have some states have no income tax, some states have no sales tax, some states have really strange laws. And some people like that.
Some states have different time zones in different parts of the state, or some states follow daylight saving times, and others don’t. It’s up to the state. And that’s what’s really interesting. It’s really interesting when the federal government tries to foist something on a state and a state says no, and they sue them or they push back. And so you have all of these kinds of experiments constantly going on. And we really do get to see what works and what doesn’t. And it’s fascinating, it’s really fascinating .You can move to another state and try some. “I don’t like the state, I’m going to leave.”
Mr. Jekielek: When we first sat down here, you mentioned that this painting here, it’s—
Mr. Taylor: Prominent.
Mr. Jekielek: Features, so we didn’t just put it up for you.
Mr. Taylor: I love this painting. But yes, this painting is in the film quite a few times. It opens and closes the film, pretty much.
Mr. Jekielek: And so, why?
Mr. Taylor: Of course, this is the signing of the Declaration of Independence; this is America as the great experiment. Everything we did is an experiment. We’re constantly experimenting. They experimented at this moment; they experimented with the Constitution, which again, is largely intact, for multiple centuries now. It’s about individualism. It’s about innovation.
And ultimately, it’s about liberty as allowing people to be free of tyranny. This is the moment where the founding fathers say, “We don’t want any more tyranny. We’re getting rid of tyranny.” They signed that declaration, they went to war, and they created the constitution. Is it perfect? It’s not perfect by far, but the thing is, it is a system that is designed to always reform and always get better and always evolve into more light, I guess you could say. But definitely to more liberty.
And if anything is tyrannical, that is the litmus test. Tyranny is not loved in this country, and should be tossed out, and the individuals should be protected. And the minority should be protected. We’re anti-mob rule. The founding fathers thought through this system, they thought of vertical checks and horizontal checks, whether it be the three branches, or federalism or a whole number of things to protect you as an individual.
Your voice matters. Even if you’re on the losing side, it’s still to protect you. And this is a very important moment that sets the stage for what will come and what has come has been pretty amazing.
Mr. Jekielek: How did you pick who your experts in the film would be? Another thing that I thought was really interesting is you have the experts speak directly into the camera, which is not often the case. You know, as a fellow filmmaker, I noticed. But tell me a little bit about how you chose the experts?
Mr. Taylor: The funny thing is that there aren’t tons of electoral college people in the world. They’ll study American history, they’ll study the Revolutionary War, they’ll study the Civil War. The electoral college is just one of those things that it’s only so many words in the Constitution. It’s not a lot. It’s not endless pages of paragraphs of things.
Because again, the Constitution itself is not a huge document. It’s very small. It’s very compact. Many of our experts were actually not just experts in the electoral college or federalism. We have people whose specialty is the Civil War, just the components to explain.
As a filmmaker, I learned tons of things as well listening to these guys. It was absolutely fascinating. I had a blast sitting down with an electoral college expert, which is not something you get to do every day, and ask them questions. They would tell you things and you sit there go, “Wow, I never thought about that. I never thought about how that protects us.”
And so I wanted to take all that and make sure it was in the movie, so that people can really have an understanding that the electoral college protects your rights, it protects your dominion and protects you. To get rid of it would make you subject to potential tyranny. You know, and so that is really the main point of the film.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned the system isn’t perfect. What are the problems with the electoral college system?
Mr. Taylor: The electoral college system does favor smaller states by small percentages, more than larger states. Why should Wyoming get those two senators and California get those two senators? That’s one of the arguments. Because Wyoming has a half million people and California has 53 million people. So there are some minor inequalities in the system that do favor [small states]. California by itself is larger than the next 40 states. Missouri is five or six million people.
There is a little bit of extra juice given to smaller states, which gives them a slightly larger proportion of the power, but it’s also on the hill as well. Again, why should these smaller states, since they have less people have proportionally the same senatorial power? But again, that’s more for the Senate, which is part of the federal system.
Ultimately, it still evens out, because in the Electoral College, the way the electors are counted is you get one elector per senator, and you get one elector per Congressman, or congressional district. You still have 55 votes with California and only three in Wyoming. It actually still balances out that California gets many more votes.
But there are some slight extra bonuses that smaller states get to help them have a voice in the Electoral College, which is protecting those states. It’s saying all states are equal when it comes to opinion. When it comes to other things states with larger populations have more votes. That is one of the criticisms of the electoral college.
And, of course, we’ve addressed that people have said it’s racist because it favored southern states over northern states. But again, when the constitution was designed, all states, except for Massachusetts, legalized slavery, there was no north and south. So that argument is moot.
And of course, it’s the federal system that allows there to be a north and south. And of course, the southern states get a little bit of a boost, because they have slaves, the three fifths clause. But eventually, thanks to federalism and the Electoral College, the South is also [subject to] eliminating slavery on a federal level.
And so again, there have been moments where there are inequality, but inequality is also part of any system, and we are trying to always make things equal. We are working towards that, and ultimately the system rebalances and comes back into line. So yes, there are some inequalities, and there are some issues.
There were issues early on with the vice president and the president regarding how you elect them. Of course, we amended that in the constitution after some very persnickety elections. Since that, the system has largely worked. It has largely elected the candidate who’s gotten the most votes nationally, except for five times out of out of many, many, many, many presidents. So ultimately, the system does work the way it’s intended.
And again, if we want to eliminate the system or change the system, it should be done with how it is laid out in the Constitution of a constitutional amendment. So everybody gets to weigh in, and everybody gets to deliberate, as opposed to secretly trying to go around and get states to fundamentally change how their electors vote. So if you want to get rid of the Electoral College, do it the right way. Do it to the amendment, include everyone in the conversation and deliberate. And then you can get rid of it. But until you do that, it’s here to stay. And it’s outlined in the film, why we should keep it.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Taylor: You know, I think as we go into this election it’s important to really know why things work the way they work. That’s why we made the film. So I do encourage people to watch the movie because we are going to come into a very contentious and potentially constitutionally complicated election in the coming months. It’s important as you cast your vote to understand why and how it works. And so again, check out “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” It’s on Amazon prime and iTunes, and we look forward to seeing how it plays out.
Mr. Jekielek: Matt Taylor, such a pleasure to have you on
Mr. Taylor: Thank you for having me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.