Supreme Court to weigh state’s actions against rogue electors

An Everett man and two others contend the Constitution allowed them to put country ahead of party.

Democratic presidential elector Bret Chiafalo stands outside the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle before a hearing in December 2016. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

Democratic presidential elector Bret Chiafalo stands outside the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle before a hearing in December 2016. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

EVERETT — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of an Everett man and two others who contend presidential electors can, under the Constitution, back the candidate of their choice rather than the one who wins the state’s popular vote.

Bret Chiafalo was one of the “faithless” Washington electors fined $1,000 by the secretary of state for not keeping his pledge to back Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Chiafalo, Esther John of Seattle and Levi Guerra of Warden fought their fines, contending the civil penalty infringed on their constitutional rights to free speech, which allowed them to vote their conscience as members of the Electoral College.

“At the end of the day we were trying to put country ahead of party,” Chiafalo said Monday. “We were exercising the responsibility given to us by the Constitution.”

A year ago, in an 8-1 decision, the state Supreme Court upheld the fines, concluding the state is empowered under the U.S. Constitution not only to draw up the rules for electors but also to determine how to enforce them.

Chiafolo and his co-defendants seek a reversal of that ruling.

At issue is the extent of a state’s power to enforce how a presidential elector casts his or her ballot.

If justices side with faithless electors, it could inject a degree of havoc and uncertainty when the Electoral College convenes in December to formally select the next president. And it could energize a movement that wants to require that U.S. presidents be elected based on results of the popular vote nationally, not ballots cast by the 538 state-appointed members of the Electoral College.

Chiafalo, Guerra and John signed pledges to cast their votes for the party’s nominee, Clinton, if she won the popular vote in Washington, which she did. In Washington, Clinton received about 521,000 more votes than Donald Trump. Nationally, she received about 2.8 million more votes.

But they didn’t keep their word, backing former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican they considered a better choice than Trump.

What they did wasn’t a surprise. Chiafalo helped found Hamilton Electors, which at the time was conducting a national campaign to derail Trump’s presidency by getting electors of both parties to break their pledges and vote for a different Republican to be the nation’s leader. If they could deny Trump a majority, the U.S. House of Representative would choose the president.

The plan failed. Ten electors did vote for someone other than Clinton or Trump, and, according to The Washington Post, five presidential elections have been decided by smaller margins. The most recent occurred in 2000, when President George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore by five electoral votes.

Washington fined its faithless electors, while Colorado compelled its three rogue electors to cast their ballots for Clinton, the winner of that state’s popular vote. Those electors sued, arguing it was unconstitutional to force them to vote for Clinton. Their case is also getting heard Wednesday.

Attorneys for all six electors argue that while states can set rules for appointing electors, the Constitution conveys upon electors “the power ‘to vote’ free of state control.”

If a state had such power, it could forbid electors from voting for candidates who don’t release their tax returns or fail to take a particular position deemed important by legislators, they argue. But the Constitution denies such power to the states, they contend.

“Our forebears were not chumps,” they wrote in a May 1 brief.

Accepting electors’ argument that the state’s power ends when an elector is appointed opens the door to “bizarre and dangerous consequences,” attorneys for the state of Washington contend in their brief. “It would mean that elections for the most powerful office in our government are and always have been hollow exercises, because electors have unfettered discretion regardless of the outcome.”

They wrote it would mean that a state could not remove or sanction an elector “even if it learned that he was offering his vote to the highest bidder, was being blackmailed by a foreign power, or had lied about his eligibility to serve.”

Justices should “reaffirm the Constitution’s — and our society’s — enduring vision of the limited role of electors,” state attorneys wrote. “Theirs are not the only votes that matter.”

A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could arrive by the end of June or early July, when the current term ends.

In Washington, fines won’t be a problem in this year’s presidential elections. A 2019 law eliminated them. Now, if an elector breaks their pledge, they will be removed and an alternate elector appointed to take their place.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

FYI

Who: U.S. Supreme Court

What: Chiafalo v. Washington oral arguments

When: 7 a.m. (PST) Wednesday, May 13

How to listen: C-SPAN will livestream audio on television, online at C-SPAN.org, and on its C-SPAN Radio app. In addition, the audio and transcript of the oral argument will be posted on the Supreme Court’s website following Wednesday’s hearing.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A resident reported finding a dead Asian giant hornet near Marysville on June 4. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Dead ‘murder hornet’ found in Marysville, a first for county

It could be from a previous season, scientists say, because males don’t typically emerge this early.

Jeff Thoreson does a cheer with his second grade class before the start of their kickball game on his last in-person day of school on Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Snohomish, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish teacher hit the right notes in memorable career

Jeff Thoreson will retire this month after molding minds at Riverview Elementary School for 41 years.

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2020, file photo, Staff Sgt. Travis Snyder, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine given at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, south of Seattle. Nurse Jose Picart, right, administered the shot. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday, June 17, 2021, announced a new COVID-19 vaccine incentive lottery for the state's military, family members and veterans because the federal government wasn't sharing individual vaccine status of those groups with the state and there were concerns they would be left out of a previously announced lottery. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
New vaccine lottery announced for military in Washington

Gov. Inslee said there were concerns they would be left out of a previously announced lottery.

Police: After short chase in Marysville, man dies by suicide

Officers responded to a domestic violence call. The suspect reportedly shot himself at the end of a chase.

The Everett Police Department has asked the City Council to keep its nine Stay Out of Drug Areas, zones where people arrested for drug crimes are not allowed. (City of Everett)
Everett police ask council to renew 9 drug enforcement areas

SODAs are a legal tool that prohibits people arrested for drug crimes from entering certain areas.

Sequoia High graduates move their tassels from one side to the other at the end of the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Everett, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Gallery: Sequoia High Graduation

Sequoia High School graduates receive their diplomas

Woman killed in hit-and-run south of Everett is identified

Detectives have been searching for the vehicle that struck Katherine Mueller, 31, of Snohomish.

Pallet communities are groups of tiny homes for unhoused people. Here, a worker installs weatherstripping on a pallet shelter at Pallet in Everett in January 2020. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Tiny home community is proposed at a Marysville church

The Pallet shelter community would provide transitional housing to eight people. Neighbors have questions.

In Edmonds, ‘small cell’ deployment permit becomes a big deal

The City Council has allowed new cellular equipment under an ordinance that regulates conditions.

Most Read