By Walker Orenstein
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 longshot 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."
Chiafalo is co-founder of a group called the "Hamilton Electors," who were aiming to block Trump through the Electoral College. He called Trump "unfit" for the office and said he was a "demagogue."
Since Trump won states that have a combined 306 electoral votes, 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.
Trump secured enough votes Monday to win.
Electors Levi Guerra of Vancouver and Esther John of Seattle joined Chiafalo in selecting Powell at the formal ceremony inside the Legislative Building in Olympia.
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 doesn't do enough to protect clean water.
He had threatened before the election he wouldn't cast his electoral vote for Clinton, and was not affiliated with the Hamilton Electors.
When Americans vote for president, they're really electing a slate of 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 1967, 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 since the vote had not happened yet.
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 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.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, who was the deputy director of Trump's campaign in Washington, said the outcome of the state's electoral vote was "outside of the norm," and "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 resume 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.
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.
(c)2016 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)