Polly Baca, a former state senator from Colorado, has been involved in every presidential race since 1960. As one of nine members of the Electoral College from Colorado who is required by state law to vote for Hillary Clinton, she is involved in this one, too. But the longtime Democratic activist is considering writing in the name of a Republican instead.
Doing so, she says, might be the only way to keep Donald Trump from the White House.
“He is not the president-elect,” Baca told The Colorado Independent Monday. “He is not the president-elect until the Electoral College meets. And as an elector I’m hopeful that we can come up with an alternative.”
Over the weekend, Baca hosted four of the nine national electors from Colorado at her home in Denver. There they discussed how they might reach out to other national electors across the country as part of a plan to keep Trump from the Oval Office.
Their hope is enough national electors from around the country can rally behind an alternative and they can help propel that alternative to the White House instead of Trump. Because there are more Republican electors than Democrats nationally, that alternative would likely have to be a Republican.
According to those at the meeting, if a Republican alternative does emerge, all four agreed they would be OK voting for whomever it is. They would also be OK defying the state law that says they have to cast their electoral votes for Hillary Clinton because she carried Colorado.
Baca is clear that her obvious preference would be for Clinton to become president, especially following any official recounts that might occur in a handful of battleground states. But if that doesn’t happen, she said, she is willing to work with Republican electors around the nation “to find somebody that would be safe for our country.”
The other three Colorado electors at Saturday’s meeting were Bob Nemanich, a high school math teacher from Colorado Springs, Jerad Sutton of Greeley, also a math teacher, and Micheal Baca, a 24-year-old grad student who is not related to Polly Baca. The five who were not there were Terry Phillips, Amy Drayer, Mary Beth Corsentino, Ann Knollman and Rollie Heath.
Each of the nine were selected by their local Democratic colleagues in the spring to serve as national electors. They never would have predicted how months later they would be talking about being part of a potential revolt among the Electoral College. On Dec. 19, they will be summoned to the state Capitol in Denver where they’ll swear an oath and cast their official votes by physically writing in a name.
“I didn’t quite see myself in this position, but I’m going to do all that I can to prevent Donald Trump,” Micheal Baca told The Independent. “And if that means sacrificing my ideals, sacrificing my party, for the country, I think that’s something important to do.”
Because Clinton won Colorado, all of the nine national electors in the state are Democrats. Not all of them are on record saying they are willing to become what is known as a “faithless elector” and vote for someone other than Clinton when the time comes.
Boulder Sen. Rollie Heath, for instance, says he is taking a wait-and-see approach in his own role as a national elector from Colorado.
“At this point we’re committed to vote for Hillary and a lot would have to happen to change that,” he said Monday. “I’m going to kind of keep an open mind and see how this whole thing plays out.”
The Colorado electors who attended the Denver meeting Saturday are just four out of 538 national college electors across the country. They are also part of an emerging movement within the national membership who have been dubbed “Hamilton Electors,” after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who discussed his beliefs in the Federalist papers about the role of the Electoral College as a way to prevent unqualified candidates from becoming president.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution set up this system as a check against direct democracy, which they did not trust. Because of it, each state is allotted a number of electors based on how many members of Congress the state has. In most states, the winner of the popular vote, no matter how slim the margin, takes all of that state’s electoral votes. The nominee who reaches 270 or more Electoral College votes wins the presidency no matter who racked up more actual ballots cast. Trump received 306 projected Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232. Clinton, however, received more than 2 million more votes than Trump nationwide.
A lawyer who was present at Saturday’s Denver meeting— he didn’t want his name published because he is not yet officially working with the electors and because of legal strategy— said the U.S Supreme Court has left open the question of whether it is constitutional to enforce state law to bind electors to whoever won a state.
“We believe it is not, under Article II and the 12th Amendment and how it is discussed by Hamilton in the federalist papers,” the lawyer said.
So far, electors from Colorado and Washington state have been leading a potential Electoral College revolt. At this weekend’s meeting, some names the four discussed for potential Trump alternatives included John McCain, Mitt Romney, John Kasich, Condoleezza Rice and Michael Bloomberg.
During the meeting, the four agreed there has been enough influence on the 2016 election by Russians, either directly or indirectly, to bolster their potential role as faithless electors. The U.S. government in October officially blamed Russia for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee, among other institutions and individuals, saying the hacks and subsequent leaks were “intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”
Bob Nemanich, the math teacher, says he believes Russian influence from cyber attacks and the hacking of email accounts had an impact on the election results.
“This is an attack on our representative form of government,” he said, adding that the question is: Who benefitted?
“We don’t have time to prosecute and investigate this,” Nemanich said. “We have to start making our own decisions [as electors].”
While those at Saturday’s meeting said they hoped more than just four of the nine would show up, Baca says she believes four others will come around.
“I’ve spoken to all except for one,” she said, choosing not to name that member. “They all agree it’s possible and we should do something. The strategy is developing.”
Part of that strategy is to get as many of the 538 national electors as possible talking by setting up a private conference call. Web developers are also working on a secure system for them to communicate electronically, Micheal Baca said, and lawyers are working on legal strategies for potentially faithless electors in the 29 states with laws binding electors to whoever won the state. The group Hamilton Electors is also partnering with Unite For America, a national network of anti-Trump organizers to foster dialogue.
“It was definitely just a group of concerned citizens trying to stop this,” Micheal Baca said about Saturday’s meeting in Denver. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
The lawyer who is unofficially working with the group said national electors should be prepared for more public scrutiny than they might be used to, especially given their potential influence and how information is shared online these days. He likened such potential scrutiny to that of Ken Bone, the once-obscure red-sweatered audience member who asked an earnest question during the second presidential debate only to become an instant Internet meme and the subject of negative publicity.
“These 538 folks, the vast majority of whom are just regular folks, shouldn’t be put through that kind of wringer,” the lawyer said. “But the reality of it is that they very well may be.”
*A previous version of this story misspelled Micheal Baca’s first name