The day after two Democratic national electors in Colorado sued the state for the right to vote their conscience on Dec. 19 when they will cast their official Electoral College votes, Kendal Unruh was having flashbacks.
“Everything I’m hearing is déjà vu,” she said Wednesday.
Unruh, a Colorado Republican activist from the Denver area, knows something about arcane revolts to unbind ballot-casters from having to vote for the candidate who won their state. In July, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Unruh became the face of a movement called Free The Delegates.
Free The Delegates was an effort by some Colorado GOP delegates to unbind other delegates from states Colorado won so they wouldn’t have to vote for him if they didn’t want to. Colorado’s own delegates were not bound to anyone, (though they supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz) because of state party rules. The parliamentary battle came down to a vote on the Republican National Committee’s rules committee and failed, but it garnered national media coverage and fit into a broader narrative of the #NeverTrump movement.
Five months later, this current effort to block Trump is a similar endeavor, though Democrats are at the tip of this spear. The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Colorado’s Democratic electors is a strategy to unbind national electors, and is aimed at blocking Trump from the White House. It is a long shot, to be sure, but, like Free the Delegates, is technically possible.
Both of these movements were born in Colorado, and in both party activists argued the U.S. Constitution supersedes tradition, rules and state law. Republican delegates then and Democratic electors now argued they were fighting the good fight in a way the Founding Fathers anticipated to keep someone unqualified from becoming president.
Both Democratic electors who are plaintiffs in this week’s lawsuit, former State Sen. Polly Baca and Colorado Springs math teacher Bob Nemanich, said they hadn’t thought about how the Free The Delegates movement resembled their own as they strategized about freeing the electors. But Nemanich acknowledges some similarities.
Unruh says she sees parallels not just in the movement, but in the backlash, too.
Since four Democratic Colorado electors went on record saying they would attempt to defy state law as part of a larger stop-Trump effort, they have been criticized by some in their own party who want to see them cast their official ballots for Hillary Clinton. Clinton won the state with more than 1.3 million votes.
During the attempted delegate revolt in Cleveland, led by Unruh and other Colorado GOP activists, Unruh says Republicans in her own party lashed out at her for trying to unbind voters from Trump in states he won.
Unruh expects the electors’ Hail Mary plan to block Trump will fail as her own did. But she’s cheering the effort by electors to vote their conscience on principle.
And it does not surprise her that anti-Trump revolts within the machine of democracy— by Republicans and now Democrats — ignited here in Colorado.
“We are more independent minded,” she says. “I’m a native and I’ve always seen that.”
Nemanich, one of the rebellious Democratic electors, agrees.
“This state has a culture of leading dissent and seeking to have a voice,” he says. “I think our people and our culture in this state are willing to challenge authority.”