OLYMPIA — Donald Trump sewed up the presidential election Monday, overcoming an unprecedented campaign to deny him a win in the Electoral College by encouraging Republican electors to back another candidate for the nation’s highest office.
Trump was on the precipice of his win by the time four of Washington’s 12 Democratic electors, including one from Everett, demonstrated their disgust in his election by casting their ballots for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who won the state’s popular vote.
Three of the rogue electors backed former Secretary of State Colin Powell and one supported Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American leader in South Dakota. By breaking their pledges, each now faces a potential $1,000 fine as a “faithless elector” under state law, though there’s no process spelled out on how it actually might be levied.
“We’re going to work with the Attorney General’s Office” on how to enforce it, Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman explained minutes after electors wrapped up their quadrennial constitutional chore. She said it would be a fair process with each elector getting ample opportunity to contest the penalty, possibly in front of an administrative law judge.
The last time a Washington elector broke from the popular vote in the state was in 1976, when Republican Mike Padden, of Spokane Valley, voted for Ronald Reagan instead of Gerald Ford. That action led to creation of the fine and this is the first possible imposition.
Bret Chiafalo, of Everett; Levi Guerra, of Warden; and Esther John, of Seattle, each backed Powell whom they considered a better alternative to Trump. Bob Satiacum, of the Puyallup Tribe, cast his vote for Faith Spotted Eagle.
John said she had struggled with her decision for weeks, settling on Powell “in the hopes that Democrats and Republicans could reconcile. Colin Powell is beloved by so many people and respected by so many people.”
Chiafalo, a leader of the national effort to deny Trump a victory Monday, had said he had been leaning toward supporting Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich until speaking with others about the merits of Powell.
“I was so compelled by the reasons so I voted for him,” he said.
Chiafalo and a Democratic elector in Colorado co-founded the Hamilton Electors, which campaigned to derail Trump’s presidency by getting electors of both parties to break their pledges and vote for a different Republican to be president.
He has said he had a moral and constitutional responsibility as an elector to select a person fit to be president. Trump isn’t that person, he said.
The effort, which faced incredibly long odds, brought the process of choosing presidents into much sharper focus for a large swath of the country.
In the November election, Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes, finishing with 48 percent of the vote to Trump’s 46 percent.
But it’s the 538 members of the Electoral College that determine the presidency and it takes 270 votes to win. Those votes are distributed by state and Trump won enough states to finish with 306 to Clinton’s 232.
That meant anti-Trump forces had to get at least 37 Republican electors to back someone else in order to deny Trump a win in the Electoral College. Had they succeeded, the U.S. House of Representatives would have chosen the nation’s 45th president.
Entering Monday, only one GOP elector from Texas had publicly declared he would not vote for Trump. Ultimately, there were two faithless Republican electors in Texas, leaving Trump with a final tally of 304. And as a result of electors’ action in Washington, Clinton’s final total will be less than in November as well.
This national conversation stoked by the fires of Chiafalo and other Democratic electors helped turn a highly scripted and typically drab affair into a political event in Olympia on Monday.
Beforehand, hundreds of people rallied outside the state Capitol, chanting “Please don’t elect the president-elect” and “Not my president.” Meanwhile, Iga Kozlowska, of Seattle, stood patiently at the front of a long line of those hoping for a seat in the state reception room to watch. It turned out to be a standing-room only crowd.
“It is a historic moment,” she said. “I wanted to be a witness to history.”
She understood whatever would occur wouldn’t stop Trump’s ascension.
“No, I don’t think this is going to change the outcome of the election but I do believe electors should vote their conscience whatever that may be,” she said.
After casting their votes for president and vice president, each of Washington’s 12 electors got a chance to offer comments to those in the room. There were expressions of support for Clinton, getting rid of the Electoral College and staying politically vigilant as Trump takes office.
“For the first time in a long time we have people sitting down and paying attention to the Electoral College, we have people sitting down and questioning the process,” Guerra said. “Do not forget this and don’t let the momentum we have here today die.”
Varisha Khan, of Woodinville, said she saw herself as a “representative of American Muslims who have been severely impacted by this election and who do have hopes and dreams for the betterment of our future. Our responsibility now going forward is that we do everything we can to make sure America is great.”
Chiafalo said he had made it his goal to educate as many Americans and other electors as possible about their rights and responsibilities under the constitution.
Based on the responses he’s received from around the country, “I feel like we’ve been very successful.”
He said he promised when Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District chose him as an elector to use the position as a “bully pulpit to come out against the Electoral College. I plan on continuing that fight after today.”
Afterwards, he said he’ll be speaking with other leaders of Hamilton Electors on the next course of action.
“We have to look at the situation and see where our efforts are best set. Perhaps it will be continuing a national conversation about the different types of ways we can elect presidents,” he said.
As for disappointment in how this way turned out?
“Nope, not at all,” he said. “As long as everybody had the right to vote for who they felt was best then I’m happy.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dospueblos.