EVERETT, Wash. — The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday from an Everett man who says presidential electors are free to vote based on their conscience even if a majority of voters in their state voted for a different candidate.
“It felt amazing finally getting to the point where we can get a question that should have been answered 200 years ago fully answered,” said Bret Chiafalo, who was a Democratic presidential elector in 2016.
He was fined a $1,000 for being a “faithless elector” in Washington state.
He had pledged to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton, but instead voted for moderate Republican Colin Powell in an effort to persuade Republicans electors to deny Republican Donald Trump the presidency.
Chiafalo appealed his punishment all the way to the Supreme Court.
“The Constitution gives the states no power to regulate the vote,” Lawrence Lessig, Chiafalo’s attorney, told the court.
Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell responded, “Electors were chosen because of the candidate they had promised to support. So, to adopt their view would be to radically change, to radically change how American presidential elections have always operated.”
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton was a champion of allowing electors to make decisions independent of voters who may have let passion overrule good judgement. That’s why Chiafalo calls his nationwide group the Hamilton Electors.
“As long as the Electoral College is in the Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the wording of the Constitution make it very clear that electors are to use their discretion.”
Associate Justice Samuel Alito sounded skeptical.
“Those who disagree with your argument say that it would lead to chaos… the rational response of the losing political party or elements within the losing political party would be to launch a massive campaign to try to influence electors. And there would be a long period of uncertainty about who the next president was going to be.”
But with President Trump on the ballot again, Chiafalo hopes this year’s electors will take up his cause.
“If it’s close, and the Supreme Court rules for us., I hope every elector out there uses their judgement and reads Federalist 68 to see what their guidance should be on making their own personal decision about whether they should vote for Donald Trump.”
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