OLYMPIA – Two prominent Republicans who support Evan McMulllin, an independent for president, filed a list of people Wednesday who would act as Washington electors if the Utah resident gets more votes here than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
It’s a task they don’t expect to fulfill, considering McMullin is not on the Washington ballot and has to run in the state as a write-in. But the gesture signals dissatisfaction with the choices available, they said, and provides a chance to speculate on how the tumultuous 2016 presidential race could get even wilder after Nov. 8
“I’m not going to hold my breath to make a return visit in December,” former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton said as he turned in the list of McMullin electors at the Secretary of State’s office. Electors for the presidential candidate who wins Washington will meet one floor up in the Capitol next month after the results are certified.
McMullin, who is also a longtime Republican, entered the race as an independent after the national political conventions, which was too late to be listed on Washington’s ballot. He is on the ballot in Idaho and 10 other states.
While they have no illusions about McMullin winning in Washington, Gorton and former Secretary of State Sam Reed said they were straying from a lifetime of voting for Republican presidential nominees to make a statement.
“It’s about the failure of both parties to nominate a qualified candidate,” said Gorton, who said he’s voted for every GOP nominee since Dwight Eisenhower.
“Our nominee doesn’t stand for most of the principles of the Republican Party” like moderation and civility, said Reed, who described himself as a lifelong party member and a fourth generation Republican.
McMullin is leading in some polls in his home state of Utah. Gorton, who served as Washington attorney general for 12 years before serving three terms in the U.S. Senate, said a McMullin win in Utah could upend the election in a close finish between Clinton and Trump.
McMullin would get Utah’s six Electoral College votes if he wins that state. If neither Trump nor Clinton have at least 270 electoral votes from wins in the other 49 states, electors will meet in December with a choice, Gorton said. Do they vote for their party’s nominee, who may be unpopular with a significant portion of the country, or consider someone else?
“Republican electors might be tempted to vote for someone they think is more qualified,” Gorton said, noting that in Washington, all the GOP electors were actually supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz. Many Democratic electors around the country had Sen. Bernie Sanders as their first choice.
In many cases, electors are chosen for their years of party service and loyalty. Some states have laws requiring an elector to vote for their party’s nominee, but those laws have never been tested. In Washington, electors sign a pledge that they will vote for the nominee, but there’s no penalty for breaking that pledge.
“You can expect a month of great maneuvering over who the electors vote for,” Gorton said.
If no candidate gets a majority of the Electoral College vote, the winner is decided by the House of Representatives from among the candidates with the top three vote totals. That’s rare, but not unprecedented. The last time it happened was 1876.