It could all come down to the Electoral College. Two Washington state electors are now signaling that they’ll refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton even if the voters hand her the state.
Robert Satiacum, a former Bernie Sanders supporter, told the Seattle Times that he will refuse to support Clinton no matter what. A second elector from Washington state, Bret Chiafalo, is saying that he may or may not follow his state’s results.
“No, no, no on Hillary. Absolutely not. No way,” said Satiacum in a telephone interview with the newspaper, which reached him as he was protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. “I hope it comes down to a swing vote and it’s me. ... Good. She ain’t getting it. Maybe it’ll wake this country up.”
Satiacum and Chiafalo are Democratic elector candidates, meaning they’ll be responsible for casting two Electoral College votes for Washington if Clinton wins the state. While they could face criminal charges for defying the state’s election results, Satiacum and Chiafalo can still, bizarrely, use their Electoral College votes to support whomever they personally choose.
Of course, if Clinton or Donald Trump winds up with a big lead in the Electoral College, what Satiacum and Chiafalo do won’t make any difference. But if the candidates run about evenly and split the Electoral College map by one or two votes — as some projections suggest they might — the rogue electors just could tip the balance in the presidential election.
A lot of crazy things have happened this election. But having two previously unheard-of Sanders supporters from Washington decide the next US president would undoubtedly be the craziest.
What happens if electors break with their pledges
If either Satiacum or Chiafalo does break with how his state votes, he would face a $1,000 fine and arrest for violating a state law binding electors.
Satiacum told the Associated Press neither bothers him. Clinton “will not get my vote, period," he told the news service in a phone interview. "She doesn't care about my land or my air or my fire or my water.”
Washington could also bring troopers into the state capitol to arrest Satiacum as soon as he violates the law and signs a certificate giving his elector’s vote to someone other than Clinton, according to Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Washington is one of 30 states with a mixture of penalties for electors who refuse to follow the election results. (The punishments range from North Carolina’s $500 fee to New Mexico’s felony-level charges, according to the National Archives and Records Administration.) The other 20 states do not have penalties, and the electors are essentially freed to vote their conscience.
Beyond the criminal penalties, the state parties could try bringing down a lot of pressure on anyone who tries defying the vote totals. Between Election Day and when the Electoral College vote is scheduled, the state parties will do all they can to lobby and threaten their electors to adhere to the results, according to Kamarck.
“This guy is going to a shaft of shit, frankly,” she said of Satiacum. “His friends and colleagues will be fucking outraged.”
How the Electoral College works
On Tuesday, voters across America will march to the polls to support one of the presidential candidates. But neither the popular vote nor statewide results are technically the mechanism that elects the US president.
Instead, when people go to their polling stations, they are actually deciding the electors who make up the Electoral College. The Electoral College then officially picks the president in a vote on December 19.
Historically, this process has just been a formality — the electors are pledged to support the candidates chosen by their state’s voters, and have done so throughout American history with a few exceptions of no real-world consequences.
There’s a good reason for that. The electors pledged to Clinton are chosen by state Democratic parties, and the electors pledged to Trump are chosen by state Republican parties. Of course, the state parties are going to try to pick people who also like their party’s presidential nominee. In other words, to have defections among the electors, you’d need people — like Satiacum — who refuse to vote for their own party’s presidential candidate. And that seems extremely unlikely.
Nobody seems to have an exact head count on how many other electors might threaten to do the same. (Initially, a Republican elector candidate from Georgia also said he would not be supporting Trump regardless of how his state voted. But he ended up stepping down as an elector.)
But while Kamarck acknowledged Satiacum’s vote could matter in a deadlocked contest, it’s very unlikely many more electors will follow his lead.
“This is almost certainly not going to be an issue this year,” she says. “I could be wrong, but I’d be shocked it if was more than just this guy.”