Democratic presidential elector Bret Chiafalo of Everett stands outside the U.S. Courthouse before a hearing on Wednesday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Judge rejects Washington electors’ attempt to avoid fine

Related: This Everett member of the Electoral College might go rogue

By Gene Johnson

Associated Press

SEATTLE — A longshot bid to deny Donald Trump the presidency suffered another setback Wednesday after a federal judge rejected an effort by two Democratic electors from Washington state to avoid being fined if they ignore the results of the state’s popular vote.

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said electors Bret Chiafalo of Everett and Levi Guerra, from Eastern Washington, had presented a case far too speculative to warrant blocking state law. The pair have said they’re not sure how they’ll vote, and there’s nothing to indicate whether Washington would actually fine them.

Both signed pledges to vote for their party’s nominee — Hillary Clinton — if she won Washington, which she did.

But they have said they might join with other so-called “Hamilton electors” from both parties to choose some other candidate when the Electoral College meets next Monday because they believe Trump is unfit for office.

Washington law states that electors who break their pledge can be fined up to $1,000. A lawyer for the pair, Sumeer Singla, asked U.S. District Judge James L. Robart to issue an injunction that would preclude the state from fining them.

He argued that compelling the electors to vote a certain way is a violation of their free-speech rights. Citing the writings of one of the nation’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, he said one role of the Electoral College is to ensure an unfit person doesn’t assume the presidency.

A federal judge in Colorado rejected similar arguments Monday, calling a bid there “a political stunt,” and a Denver judge on Tuesday held that Colorado’s nine electors must vote for Clinton because she won the state’s popular vote.

Another case has been filed in California. Trump won 306 electors last month, well over the 270 needed to put him in the White House. About half the states have laws binding their electors to the winner of the popular vote.

Robart noted that no court has held that an elector’s vote in the Electoral College is an exercise in free speech, and even if it were, the plaintiffs appeared to have voluntarily given it up by signing the pledge.

“Your clients chose to voluntarily relinquish a right … when they obligated themselves to a written contract,” Robart told Singla. “Now you’re saying, ‘We had our fingers crossed, we didn’t mean it.’

“Your clients agreed to represent the will of the majority,” he added.

Callie Castillo, a deputy state solicitor general, told the judge that the electors could challenge the fine if and when the state issues one, and that there was no reason for the court to block the law.

Lawyers for Trump and for the state Republican Party also appeared at the hearing, siding with the state.

After the hearing, Chiafalo and his lawyer said they were weighing whether to appeal but by Wednesday night had filed an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.

Chiafalo said he wasn’t sure if the potential for a fine would dissuade him from voting for someone other than Clinton.

“It’s been an ethical and moral conundrum for me,” he said.

Meanwhile some electors continue their efforts to obtain information about possible Russian hacking during the presidential election before the Electoral College meets. Hawaii’s four Democratic electors on Wednesday called on President Barack Obama to release a CIA report on the topic.

“The information contained in the report is essential to carrying out our constitutional obligation of casting our vote in an election that is free from tampering from outside entities,” the electors said, according to a statement released late Tuesday by one of Hawaii’s electors, John Bickel.

The move follows a letter sent Monday by 10 electors requesting information about ongoing investigations on ties between Trump and “Russian government interference in the election.”

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