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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Faithless electors’ would lose their position under Senate bill

OLYMPIA – Washington members of the Electoral College would be replaced if they wanted to cast a ballot for someone other than the winner of the state’s presidential vote, under a bill passed Tuesday by the Senate.

The change to the state’s “faithless elector” law would remove the current fine of $1,000 for casting an Electoral College vote for someone other than the person who received the most votes in that year’s presidential election.

Instead, if an elector votes for someone who didn’t win the Washington presidential race, that ballot wouldn’t count. The position would be declared vacant and an alternate elector would take that place.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, the sponsor of the bill, called it a way to make sure “the will of the people is honored.” In 2016, four of the state’s 12 electors voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who received 54percent of the state vote.

But Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the state doesn’t need a new law. The political parties, which choose the electors, should just do a better job of picking people who will vote for their candidates.

“This could be solved just by a better vetting of who the electors are,” Padden said. And considering Democrats have won the presidential elections in Washington since 1988, they “would just have to do a better job.”

As most senators knew, Padden himself was a faithless elector in 1976, when he cast one of Washington’s Electoral College votes for Ronald Reagan, after Gerald Ford won the state but lost the election overall.

But that was before Washington had a faithless elector law, so there was no consequence for Padden’s action in 1976, which he sometimes describes as “just being a bit ahead of the times” because Reagan was elected president in 1980. The Legislature approved the $1,000 fine in 1977, but there was never reason to assess it until 2016, when three Democratic Party electors voted for Colin Powell and one voted for Native American activist Faith Spotted Eagle.

The three who voted for Powell are challenging the fine in a case that has been argued before the Washington Supreme Court but hasn’t yet been decided.

Opponents of the bill said it, too, could face a challenge over the state putting a limitation on a process that comes from the U.S. Constitution.

“Democracy is about majority rule,” Kuderer said. With the fine, the state already has some limits on its electors and “if there’s a challenge, there’s a challenge,” she added.

The bill was sent to the House on a 29-20, mostly party line vote.