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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Seeking an Electoral College switch

OLYMPIA – In 20 days, Bret Chiafalo will be one of 12 Washington members of the Electoral College who will help pick the next president. A Democrat pledged to Hillary Clinton, he said he'd be willing to vote for someone else if enough Republicans in other states will withhold their votes from Donald Trump.

Chiafalo is a member of a small group who call themselves Hamilton Electors, after Alexander Hamilton. But their task is so big that they might be called Quixote Electors, after the literary character famous for tilting at windmills.

On the steps of the state Capitol, Chiafalo and other supporters of the movement explained their hopes to keep Trump from becoming president by throwing the election into the House of Representatives. It's constitutionally possible, but the math is difficult. Here's why:

There are, at this point, six Hamilton Electors, by Chiafalo's count. But all are Democrats, so if they cast their vote for someone other than Clinton on Dec. 19, Trump still wins. To keep the Republican nominee from being declared president, they will need to convince at least 37 Republican electors in states that gave a majority of their votes to Trump to switch to someone else.

If that happens, the House would select the president from the top three vote-getters, with each state getting one vote.

But the Hamilton Electors have yet to recruit a Republican elector to their cause or settle on a GOP alternative.

“That's up to the Republican electors to decide,” Chiafalo said. It wouldn't have to be the same person, just not Trump.

They'd have to decide soon, because the Electoral College meets in each state capital on Dec. 19 to cast those votes.

How will they swing 37 votes in 20 days? “We'll keep doing what we’re doing. Keep reaching out. Keep having these conversations," he said.

Earlier this year, Chiafalo was selected as an elector by Democrats from Washington's 2nd Congressional District. Although Clinton was the apparent nominee by then, he was a supporter of Bernie Sanders and is willing to cast a vote for someone other than Clinton if the Hamilton Electors plan comes together.

“If I believe it will help. . . I will vote for a Republican compromise candidate,” he said. Washington has a "faithless elector" statute which means he could be facing a $1,000 fine. In other states, switching from the winner of the popular vote is a misdemeanor or a felony.

But Hamilton Electors aren't worried about such laws, he said, because the have a bevy of attorneys volunteering to challenge them if necessary.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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