It begins (maybe) with Hillary Clinton, but it may not end with her. A Democrat elector for the state of Washington has declared that he will refuse to cast his ballot in the Electoral College for the Democratic nominee. Even though acting as a faithless elector could cost him a thousand dollars, Robert Satiacum Jr says he cannot act against his principles to get Hillary elected.
That’s not to say he thinks much more of Donald Trump. In fact, he thinks that the two are virtually peas from the same pod — or rowers in the same canoe:
Robert Satiacum Jr. calls Hillary Clinton a “clown,” a “rat,” a “criminal” and a virtual clone of Donald Trump. But that’s not all.
He’s also one of 12 Democrats designated to cast his electoral vote for Clinton if she wins Washington, a blue state she’s expected to easily carry. Now, he’s caught in a fierce personal struggle over whether to rebel against her in the Electoral College, a decision that could create havoc in a close presidential contest.
“How can I say and do and be who I am and then cast a vote for somebody that’s the same as Trump?” Satiacum wondered. “They may be male, female, but they’re in the same canoe.” … “I have to either step down from being this thing I was elected to be or I’ve got to step down from being myself,” he said. “That’s the teeter totter I’m on.”
In other words, this isn’t a defection as much as it is a desertion. His interview with Politico got the attention of Washington state Democrats, who reminded him that he signed up for this duty. At first, Satiacum agreed to cast his ballot for Hillary if she won the state – a near certainty, as she has a 14-point RCP average lead. He then retreated from his retreat, telling Politico in a follow-up that no one can force him to vote against his conscience.
That much is true, although some states can make it unpleasant with fines and misdemeanor criminal charges, but those rarely get enforced. In large part, it’s because faithless electors rarely emerge. Only 157 electors cast ballots for someone other than their designee in US history, and 71 of those occurred because the candidate had died before the Electoral College could be called into session. It has never changed the outcome of an election, and of late it’s become exceedingly rare. The last time it happened was in 2004, when a Kerry elector cast a vote for John Edwards instead. (That happened anonymously, which turned out to be fortunate for the elector.)
This time could be different, and it may be a worry that both parties will have to address. It’s not exactly a secret that the two people most likely to win any Electoral College votes are also the least-liked major-party nominees in a very long time. The pressure on electors to go rogue or to simply abstain will rise over the next few weeks, and that might be even more true with electors for Trump. The parties organize that effort when they file general-election paperwork with each state, and tend to be party activists. With Trump taking aim at the RNC, that might have more than a couple of them looking for an exit from this choice.
Even in this cycle, a few faithless electors would probably not change the outcome. But this cycle’s oddities make it a little more of a possibility than usual.