“This isn’t normal.”
That was one observation made today at the state Capitol, where after a long and bizarrely winding road, Colorado’s nine electors (plus one last-minute alternate) officially awarded the state’s electoral votes to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Only one elector, Micheal Baca, refused to obey state law requiring electors to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote. He stood his ground despite some last-minute legal muscling by Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
In voting for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Baca became the first elector in state history to vote for someone other than the winner of the presidential contest.
Williams, who was determined to make sure electors toed the line, presented the nine with an oath that none of them had seen before and that three immediately condemned as unconstitutional. The oath was an explicit pledge to vote for the winner of state’s popular vote — or be replaced as an elector. The 11th-hour switch delayed the vote by about 45 minutes.
For the past month, three Colorado electors have been part of an effort to persuade electors in other states to vote their consciences and choose someone other than Republican President-elect Donald Trump for today’s vote by the Electoral College.
Two Colorado electors, former state Sen. Polly Baca of Denver and Bob Nemanich of Colorado Springs, filed suit against the state, challenging a state law that requires electors to vote for the winner of the general election presidential contest. A Denver District Court judge ruled against the electors, who appealed to the state Supreme Court, which refused to take the case.
Electors had hoped to persuade 37 Republican electors to vote for someone other than Trump, sending the decision to the U.S. House of Representatives. It was for naught. Trump won the needed 270-electoral vote minimum by mid-afternoon.
Up until the last minute, it was unclear how many, if any, of Colorado’s nine electors would defy the law and vote for someone other than Clinton, and the vote drew hundreds to the state Capitol.
“This isn’t normal,” said Steve Carpenter of Evergreen, referring to the entire presidential contest and election. Carpenter, who came to the Capitol to watch history being made, said “what’s going on in our country isn’t normal and isn’t right. I wish there were 37 brave souls who would vote no.” Carpenter said he didn’t expect that to happen, nor did he expect the Colorado electors to vote for anyone but Clinton “because they’ll face jail time. It would take a brave person in Colorado to [vote no],” Carpenter added.
“I’m here because my heart hurts,” said Jillian Hopkins of Denver. She said she hoped the electors would have a conscience and not allow Trump to come into power, adding that what’s being left to her children and grandchildren is “disheartening.”
Gary Ruff of Denver was at the Capitol to show his support for the Electoral College and for electors to vote their conscience. “Anybody but Donald Trump,” Ruff said. “Stand up and listen to the people, hear what we have to say.”
Last week, the electors learned Williams intended to draft a new oath for the vote, not only to ensure that electors abided by state law, but to make a clear case that in not doing so they were committing perjury.
Denver District Court Judge Elizabeth Starrs ruled early Monday that the new oath could not be administered without a change in the rules, so Williams convened an emergency rule-making hearing to make those changes.
That led several electors to tell Williams they wanted to get legal advice from their attorneys, and a delay while both sides consulted with Starrs on whether Williams’ new oath could be administered. Starrs ruled in favor of the new oath, but said that anyone wanting to challenge the rule could do so under normal rule-making procedures within the next 30 days.
Rick Palacio, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, told The Colorado Independent he found the change in oath inappropriate. “Any time an elected official, especially the Secretary of State, the chief elections judge, makes an emergency rule five minutes before a proceeding, it’s a little inappropriate.” Palacio said there had been plenty of time for Williams to act before today.
Nemanich didn’t mince words. “This is a dustup by the Secretary of State to do two things: grandstanding for his presumed quest for governor and to set us up for a perjury trap after the fact,” he told The Independent.
The change in the oath is not a small thing; the one that existed before today was simple and could be used for any purpose.
The previous oath: “I [name] do solemnly swear by the everliving God, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Colorado, and faithfully perform the duties of the office of [elector] upon which I am about to enter.”
The new oath: “I [name] do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the state of Colorado, that I will faithfully perform the duties of the office of presidential elector that I am about to enter, and that I will vote for the presidential candidates and vice-presidential candidate who received the highest number of votes at the preceding general election.”
Elector Polly Baca told Williams she was taking the oath “under duress” and called it unconstitutional, a statement echoed by Nemanich and Micheal Baca.
After taking the oath in the governor’s office, the electors moved to the west foyer of the state Capitol for the vote, where a table and nine seats awaited them, along with a crowd of hundreds. Protesters cheered as the electors came out of the governor’s office.
The results of the vote: “eight votes and one that cannot be counted,” Williams said, and then called for nominations for a replacement elector. Celeste Landry, who came to the Capitol with elector Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder, said she was prepared to be a replacement elector and was sworn in on the spot by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice.
Landry’s oath was drowned out by protesters, shouting for Williams to resign or to be recalled, and cries that “the whole world is watching!” She then cast her vote for Clinton.
The second vote, for vice-president, was perfunctory: all nine electors, this time including Micheal Baca, voted for Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
Baca walked out of the state Capitol to cheers from many and a few calls of “shame” from others.
Williams told reporters after the vote that it will be up to the Attorney General to decide whether to file criminal charges against Micheal Baca. He said his job was merely to administer the election.
Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent; electors’ oath photo by Marianne Goodland, The Colorado Independent