Hillary Clinton won the state’s popular vote, but three of 12 members of the Electoral College voted for Colin Powell, a former secretary of state; and one voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American elder from South Dakota.
OLYMPIA — One-third of Washington’s 12 Democratic presidential electors went rogue on Monday, breaking pledges to honor the state’s popular vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In acts of symbolic protest, three voted instead for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, while one voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American elder and activist from South Dakota.
That made Washington the national leader in so-called “faithless electors” on a day when the vast majority of the 538 members of the Electoral College heeded their states’ popular votes as expected, sealing President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.
With all states voting, Trump finished with 304 votes and Clinton had 227. It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.
It was the first time in four decades that any of Washington’s Electoral College voters have broken from the state’s popular vote for president.
With hundreds of anti-Trump protesters gathered outside, Washington’s electors met in an ornate state Capitol reception room to complete the constitutional formality, casting their written votes with feather pens.
The hubbub around a longshot possibility that rebellious “Hamilton electors” might deny Trump the White House turned what has normally been a little-attended ceremony into a closely watched event. The movement was based on Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s view that the Electoral College should be a backstop against presidents who are unqualified or unduly influenced by foreign powers.
But the national effort ultimately flopped — with two GOP electors in Texas becoming the only Republicans to defy Trump. The only other faithless elector was a Democrat in Hawaii who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton, who had won that state.
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Under state law, the four electors who didn’t heed Washington’s popular vote now face fines of up to $1,000. A spokesman for Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman confirmed her office will enforce that penalty, which was put in place after Republican elector Mike Padden in 1976 disregarded the state’s popular vote for Gerald Ford, casting his vote instead for Ronald Reagan.
The threat of fines didn’t dissuade the state’s four rogue electors on Monday.
Three of them — Bret Chiafalo, Levi Guerra and Esther John — supported Powell, who served as former U.S. secretary of state under Republican President George W. Bush. The trio was part of the “Hamilton electors” movement that hoped to ally with GOP electors in others states in denying Trump the required 270 electoral-vote majority he needed to be sworn in as president next month.
Chiafalo, of Everett, defended the decision to disregard the state’s election result. “I think we did what we thought was right,” he said, arguing the Constitution intended the Electoral College members to act independently.
Chiafalo and Guerra, an elector from Grant County, have sued in federal court to challenge the state law imposing fines on faithless electors. But a judge last week rejected their request for an injunction blocking enforcement of the law.
Monday’s electoral revolt was not all about Trump. Some of Washington’s electors, including Chiafalo, had been supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and said before the Nov. 8 election they might not cast their electoral votes for Clinton.
Robert Satiacum, a member of the Puyallup Tribe, had blasted Clinton for failing to take a strong stand against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline despite its implications for the planet. On Monday, he said his electoral vote was for “a real leader” instead of Clinton, citing Faith Spotted Eagle’s environmental activism.
“We live in perilous times. What’s it going to take to wake this country up?” he said. “It never should have come down to this.”
State Democratic Party Chair Jaxon Ravens criticized the four renegade electors for refusing to vote for Clinton. All had been elected at Democratic Party meetings this year and had signed written pledges to support Clinton if she won the state.
“I am disappointed that they chose to make a personal political statement rather than to represent the will of the voters and of Washington state,” Ravens said.
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He said the state Democrats will “most definitely” be looking at strengthening party rules to more forcibly bind future electors.
The defections also irritated some of the eight electors who remained faithful to Clinton.
“I don’t think that it’s OK, because it’s a violation of your promise to the voters, which is how they got here in the first place,” said Chris Porter, a delegate from Seattle, who got in a heated argument with Satiacum after the vote.
For vice president, the electoral vote was eight for Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, one for environmentalist Winona LaDuke, and one each for U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Susan Collins and Maria Cantwell.
After the vote, several electors said they hoped the attention to the event would carry forward into the future — and possibly result in the Electoral College system’s being replaced by the national popular vote.
“I am excited and I have exuberance about this process and civic engagement moving forward,” said Phillip Tyler, head of the NAACP of Spokane, one of the electors who backed Clinton.