Washington electors split four votes away from Clinton

December 19, 2016

OLYMPIA – Although Hillary Clinton easily defeated Donald Trump in last month’s election in Washington, she didn’t pick up all the votes from the state’s Electoral College when it met Monday.

The former secretary of State and Democratic Party nominee split her electoral votes in Washington with a former general and Native American leader.

When the state’s electoral votes are counted in the U.S. Congress next month – and in official records afterward – they’ll be listed as eight for Clinton, three for Colin Powell, and one for Faith Spotted Eagle.

The votes for Powell were part of an effort by so-called Hamilton Electors to keep Republican Donald Trump from being declared president. But because all of Washington’s electors are pledged to Clinton, they reduced her national total, not Trump’s.

Trump gathered all the electoral votes he needed to be declared president, including the four from Idaho he was awarded for winning that state.

The vote for Spotted Eagle came from Robert Satiacum, a Native American activist who spent time at the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. Spotted Eagle is a medicine woman and leader of the Lakota Sioux and the protest, Satiacum said.

“I hope it really resonates,” Satiacum said afterwards. “Water is everything.”

Indian tribes and others have staged an ongoing protest against the pipeline, which they say could leak and ruin their water supply and pollute their land.

The vote came at the end of a part of the presidential selection process which usually draws little attention. State law requires Electoral College members to sign a pledge to vote for the person who wins Washington’s popular vote, and most years, they do.

This year, however, hundreds of protesters filled the Capitol Rotunda a couple of hours before the meeting, taking pictures with their protest signs around the huge noble fir decorated for Christmas before spilling out onto the steps of the building to chant slogans like “We reject…The president-elect.”

Jo Walter, of Bremerton, wore a costume of a nearly naked Trump with an oversized head and crown and a “Make America Great” sign. He mugged for cameras with a Adria Magrath, who wore a Miss America sash.

Protesters and other observers filled the state Reception Room to standing room only, and the overflow crowd was sent to the legislative galleries to watch the event on a video feed. What they saw was possibly the most diverse Electoral College group in the country, with three Native Americans, including Julie Johnson, a Lummi tribal member elected the group’s chairwoman; three African Americans, including Phillip Tyler, president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter; one Hispanic, one Muslim and one transgender person. Also in the group, Elizabeth Caldwell, who said she has terminal cancer and is “not likely to see the next presidential election.”

After the Pledge of Allegiance, Johnson asked for a Native blessing, and Dan Carpita of Enumclaw, a member of the Lehmi Shoshone tribe, produced a Native flute and played a tune he called “Chief Dan George’s Song,” moving to the four compass points as he played.

The original announcement of the presidential vote was unclear but was later clarified with the 8-3-1 split. In the separate vote for vice president, Democratic nominee Tim Kaine got eight votes, with one vote each going for Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Native America activist Winona LaDuke, who was the Green Party’s vice presidential nominee in 1996 and 2000.

When electors were each given time for a short speech, several said they hoped that this would be the last meeting of the Electoral College, although changing an institution that goes back to the beginning of the republic would take an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Others said they hoped the country would come together after a contentious election.

Varisha Khan, a University of Washington journalism and political science student, said she hoped that having a Muslim in the state’s Electoral College would show everyone that Muslims do have hopes and dreams, and members of her own faith “you can have an impact.”

Chiafolo indicated before the meeting that he might cast his vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but switched to Powell when the balloting began.

Satiacum cast his vote in an effort to get people to pay attention to the need to protect the water and the land. He hopes it will help people wake up to those needs when the vote for Spotted Eagle is read next month in Congress as the full electoral tally is announced.

Tyler, who cast his vote for Clinton, said he was “a bit troubled” that some other electors didn’t back the winner of the state popular vote but added it shows the divisions within the party. He hoped the rest of the country would notice the makeup of the group as well as their split.

“To me, it sends a message that our state is diverse,” he said.