In an unprecedented break with party and tradition, four members of the Electoral College in Washington passed over the state’s popular vote winner, Democrat Hillary Clinton, on Monday to pick a candidate who wasn’t on the November ballot.
Three of the state’s 12 electors chose former Secretary of State Colin Powell in an unsuccessful long shot effort to persuade Republican members of the Electoral College in other states to block Donald Trump from getting the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency.
Another Washington elector picked Faith Spotted Eagle, a Yankton Sioux leader of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, because of discontent with Clinton.
“We did what we thought was necessary to take a stand,” said Bret Chiafalo, an elector from Everett who picked Powell over Clinton. “Whether we won or lost — and obviously we lost — it doesn’t change the fact that we were standing up and doing the right thing.”
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Several hundred people rallied Monday morning at the state Legislative Building, calling on electors to “Save U.S.” and “Vote Your Conscience.” Hours later, Washington because one of three states — Texas and Hawaii being the others — where electors successfully voted for a protest candidate.
It was not enough. At least 37 Republicans around the country would have had to defect from Trump in order to force the U.S. House of Representatives to pick the next president. In the end, only seven electors nationwide changed their votes, and only two of them were Republicans.
Chiafalo is co-founder of a group called the “Hamilton Electors,” who were aiming to block Trump through the Electoral College. Electors Levi Guerra of Vancouver and Esther John of Seattle joined him in selecting Powell at the formal ceremony inside the Legislative Building.
Earlier in the day, Chiafalo said the trio were planning to vote for the Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich, but Guerra convinced him of the need for a president with strong credentials in national security following reports of Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Calling Trump “mentally unstable,” John said she was seeking to elect an alternative Republican, and split with Clinton only because she felt she “needed to cast a vote to try and get sanity into the presidential office.”
Robert Satiacum, a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, chose Faith Spotted Eagle as a protest against Clinton. He criticized Clinton as “a crook” who has “her hand in the cookie jar,” and said she hasn’t done enough to protect clean water.
He had said before the election he wouldn’t cast his electoral vote for Clinton, and was not affiliated with the Hamilton Electors.
Most states, Washington included, have a winner-take-all system in which all electoral votes are cast by the electors who pledged to support the nominee who won the state’s popular vote.
Electors who break their pledge, known as “faithless electors,” are rare. The last time Washington had a faithless elector came in 1976, when Mike Padden, now a Republican state senator from Spokane Valley, cast his vote for Ronald Reagan. Gerald Ford was the popular vote winner in Washington that year.
In Washington, faithless electors even face a fine up to $1,000 for breaking their pledge. Chiafalo and Guerra went to court last week to try to avoid the fine, but a judge ruled against them.
Washington has never had more than one faithless elector in a single year, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Elector Elizabeth Caldwell said she was was happy to fulfill her pledge to Clinton. But Caldwell, of Seattle, said she also didn’t mind the other electors going rogue, saying Trump is “unprepared” for the job.
“I think it’s perfectly fine for people to vote their conscience in the Electoral College,” she said.
But not everyone agreed with the faithless’ electors decision to choose other candidates.
“I still believe in, once you make your promise to the voters that that promise is worth keeping,” said elector Chris Porter of West Seattle. Porter picked Clinton despite supporting Bernie Sanders early on.
Jaxon Ravens, chairman of the state Democratic Party, also criticized the electors who broke party ranks.
“I’m deeply disappointed that these members of the Electoral College chose to make a personal political statement rather than fulfilling their duties and obligations to the voters of Washington state,” he said.
Ravens vowed to look into ways to hold electors to the pledge, including possibly raising the maximum $1,000 fine for faithless electors with help from the Legislature, or setting up a system for them to be replaced by alternate delegates before the vote.
Ravens said he is in favor of ending the Electoral College and relying on the popular vote to elect the president.
He also noted Washington state is part of a compact aimed at following the popular vote if enough states join. Only 11 states are part of the agreement currently.
On the other side of the aisle, State Sen. Doug Ericksen, who was the deputy director of Trump’s campaign in Washington, said the outcome of the state’s electoral vote “shows how unpopular Hillary Clinton was with her own electors.”
“Mr. Trump won the election fair and square, and it’s unfortunate that some people are trying so hard to divide our country and not accept the outcome of the election,” he said.
Ericksen, a Republican from Ferndale, called Trump “extremely well qualified” to serve as president because of his résumé in business. He criticized the Democratic electors as “radicals” and the party as out of touch “compared to mainstream Americans.”
“This is extreme,” Ericksen said of the Electoral College revolt.
The Electoral College members from Washington also voted for vice president Monday. Eight picked Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine, while environmentalist Winona LaDuke and U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, Susan Collins and Elizabeth Warren each got one vote.
Though his bid to stop Trump was ultimately unsuccessful, Chiafalo said Washington’s faithless electors brought attention to the Electoral College system as a whole. He supports abandoning the Electoral College and electing presidents by popular vote.
“We won on having a national conversation about how we elect the president,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.