What’s the deal with those rogue electors in Washington state? Can they be replaced? We explain.
Two rogue Democratic electors in Washington are getting plenty of attention this week for saying they may refuse to cast their Electoral College ballots for Hillary Clinton — regardless of the popular vote.
Judging from email and phone calls, Seattle Times readers have many questions about this development, from “What the heck is going on?” to “Can’t these people be replaced?”
Here are some answers.
Q: Who are these electors and what are they saying?
A: Robert Satiacum is a member of the Puyallup Tribe who has been in North Dakota protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. He’s angry that the Obama administration has not halted the project and that Clinton has not firmly opposed it.
Satiacum told The Seattle Times he cannot, in good conscience, support Clinton. “No, no, no on Hillary. Absolutely not. No way,” he said.
Bret Chiafalo, of Everett, has not been as adamant. But he said he’s considering becoming a “conscientious elector” and voting for whomever he wants instead of Clinton.
Chiafalo, who works for XBox Live as a network analyst, opposes the Electoral College system, but he believes electors have the right to follow their consciences.
He’s built a website called the Conscientious Electors Project that lists demands including an “immediate halt” to the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
Both Satiacum and Chiafalo supported Vermont Sen. Benie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Sanders won Washington’s caucuses in March, which left his supporters in control of subsequent Democratic Party delegate meetings at which electors were chosen.
Q: How does this elector thing work again?
A: When voters pick the next president Tuesday they’ll actually be doing it indirectly.
The popular vote in each state decides which party controls the Electoral College votes. There are 538 electoral votes, meaning it takes 270 to win. Washington has 12 of those votes.
The Electoral College is normally a ceremonial afterthought. Electors are supposed to get together on Dec. 19 in state capitols and cast the electoral votes for president. If Clinton wins here as expected, it’ll be the Democratic electors who cast the votes.
Q: Aren’t electors supposed to abide by the popular vote?
A: Yes. Satiacum and Chiafalo signed pledges recorded with the Secretary of State’s office, promising they would “vote for the candidates nominated by the Democratic Party for President and Vice President of the United States.”
Q: What happens if they break those pledges?
A: State law carries a $1,000 civil fine for so-called “faithless electors” who don’t support their party’s presidential nominee.
Washington is one of 25 states with laws requiring electors to follow the popular vote, according to the National Archives. Penalties vary in other states. In New Mexico, it’s a fourth-degree felony.
Chiafalo says he believes such state laws are unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on that question.
Q: Can electors be replaced?
A: The Washington Secretary of State’s Office says there’s nothing in state law to prevent an elector from being replaced, so it’s up to the state Democratic Party to decide if its rules allow that.
Party officials aren’t saying much. In a Facebook post Sunday, state Democratic Party chair Jaxon Ravens said the party is focusing on its get-out-the-vote efforts and would “review the situation carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly immediately after the election.”
Party vice chair Valerie Brady Rongey said in an interview that Satiacum’s stance will be moot if Clinton wins by enough electoral votes nationally.
“My feeling is we’re going to win by enough of a margin tomorrow that the ballots will just bury this person’s ire,” she said.
There are also 12 alternate electors, so it’s possible Satiacum and Chiafalo could be convinced to step aside. It appears Democratic leaders could make a run at replacing electors if persuasion isn’t enough.
The state party’s bylaws give the Democratic state committee the authority to “provide for the nomination of presidential electors.” And the party charter allows the state committee to amend any of its bylaws or the charter itself.
Q: What do other Democratic electors think about all this?
A: Satiacum says he’s received some encouragement from electors in other states. But some of his Washington colleagues are not happy.
Elector Chris Porter of Seattle says he also supported Sanders but understands his duty is to back Clinton in the Electoral College.
Porter said Satiacum knew what he was signing up for and planned his stunt to make a point.
“This is a Bernie priest and not someone who is interested in following the will of the voters in the state,” Porter said in an email. “If he cannot vote for Clinton, there is an alternate.”
Another elector, Varisha Khan, also was a Sanders supporter and delegate to the Democratic National Convention. The University of Washington student said she intends to fulfill her elector pledge. What’s important, she said, is to hold elected leaders accountable after the election. “We’re voting on Nov. 8. Our job doesn’t end there,” she said.
Q: Has this happened before?
A: Yes, but it’s rare. According to Fairvote.org, there have been 157 faithless electors since the founding of the Electoral College.
In Washington, Mike Padden, now a Republican state senator from Spokane Valley, went rogue in 1976, voting for Ronald Reagan even though Gerald Ford won the state.