Yes, the Electoral College Can Put Hillary Clinton in the White House

Of course, there are some caveats. Penn constitutional expert Kermit Roosevelt (yes, he's related) explains.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The petition calling on the Electoral College to send Hillary Clinton (who won the popular vote) to the White House instead of Donald Trump (who bested her by electoral count) is up to a not-unimpressive 4.3 million signatures. But is it even possible? For the answer to this, we turned to University of Pennsylvania constitutional law scholar Kermit Roosevelt III, the great-great-grandson of Teddy Roosevelt.

Are all these people just wasting their time, or could the Electoral College actually elect Hillary Clinton?
Well, it’s possible. There have been faithless electors in the past.

Faithless electors?
Electors are pledged to certain candidates when they campaign. When they run, they say, I’m going to pick Trump or I’m going to pick Clinton when they’re elected. So if they go back on that, then they are breaking their pledge.

Is that even legal?
There’s certainly no federal law against it, and in most states, there’s no law one way or another.

You mentioned that there have been faithless electors. How did that work out?
Never in a way that would affect the outcome of an election, and it’s extremely unlikely that this would happen.

And if it did happen, I’m not sure it’s a very good idea.
Yes, it’s an open question how people would react if it did happen, if they suddenly voted for Clinton instead of Trump. Certainly, people would feel robbed. It would be … unpredictable.

I could imagine an all-out civil war.
I hope not, but yes, something like that. It would absolutely lead to chaos. It’s all very uncharted territory.

It seems like every time there’s a close race, people call for the abolishment of the Electoral College. Is it outdated?
I think so. It has a partisan impact, because it enhances the electoral strength of smaller and less-populated states, which tend to be Republican. And because it favors Republicans, trying to get rid of it would be difficult, and it would never be a bipartisan effort.

But the arguments to get rid of it are good. It distorts representation so that votes in some states count for more than votes in other states. It was originally in place to increase the power of slaveholding states. And the idea was that if the local people were uninformed and elected the “wrong” president, the Electoral College could fix it. It was adopted for reasons that were not good at the time, and it doesn’t serve any purpose now.

So we’re not going to convince them to switch their votes. And we can’t abolish them. What can people do?
Their best option is to prepare themselves to resist specific things. And, of course, impeachment is also a possibility, but if you impeach Trump, you get Pence, which liberals won’t want, but establishment Republicans might want. You might get a surprising number of Republicans who would support Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Wait a second. Impeachment? I thought he had to do something illegal. Why are we talking about impeachment?
Well, “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Bill Clinton was impeached because he lied in a deposition in a lawsuit. And Trump is facing some lawsuits, so it wouldn’t shock me if something like that were possible. But, again, we’d get Pence, which wouldn’t be better if you’re a social liberal, but it might be better if you’re afraid of global instability.

On Thursday, part two of our interview with Kermit Roosevelt, in which he weighs in on the constitutionality of some of Trump’s campaign pledges.