Why a Washington state elector says he won’t vote for Clinton

Robert Satiacum faces a $1,000 fine if he refuses to cast a vote for the winner of the popular vote in Washington, which Hillary Clinton is expected to win.

Don Ryan/AP/File
Ballots are prepared for counting at Multnomah County election headquarters in Portland, Ore., May 17, 2016.

Robert Satiacum, a Washington state elector for the Democratic Party who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont for the Democratic nomination, says he won’t cast his state’s electoral college vote for Hillary Clinton if she wins the popular vote there.

Mr. Satiacum, a Puyallup Tribe member and one of the twelve electoral college members in Washington, a state which Mrs. Clinton is expected to win easily, told the Seattle Times that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to cast a vote for her, citing his lack of trust in her on tribal or environmental issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. He faces a $1,000 penalty, since Washington is one of 30 states that penalizes electors who don’t channel the results of the popular vote.

"She will not get my vote, period," he told the Associated Press in a phone interview, adding that he believed Mr. Sanders had done a better job reaching out to Native Americans. "She doesn't care about my land or my air or my fire or my water.”

His unequivocal refusal, after a month of publicly expressed misgivings, draws attention to one of the many quirks inherent to the electoral system that weight some votes over others and creates a route for an elector's “conscience vote” – especially in a election year when questions of conscience are the order of the day. And his motives seem to point to the growing revivalist sentiment among Native Americans sparked by protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Satiacum has traveled to join.

“Here at the front lines of protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, every movement is weighted with the indigenous history of the region,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass on Nov. 1.

Talk to Native Americans here, no matter the tribe, and you will hear many of the same things. After generations of oppression and neglect, mired in systemic poverty and prevented from doing basic things like practicing their religion, the protesters here – who prefer to be called “water protectors” – see their stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) as not just a battle against a specific project, but public signs of a reconnection with their collective traditions and religion.

It is this reconnection, they believe, that has sustained the protest for over seven months. And in turn, it could have broader ripple effects both on and off tribal lands. For one thing, the protests here may be turning Native Americans into a leading force in the domestic movement on climate change.

The Puyallup Tribe has donated over $460,000 to the Clinton campaign, making it one of Washington’s biggest contributors to her campaign, reports the Seattle Times, and Clinton visited the tribe’s reservation in March. Tribal leaders said they have urged Satiacum to remember the pledge he took as a state elector, to cast his vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote, though they add that they support his “personal convictions.”

There’ve only been 157 “faithless electors” since the nation’s founding, with 71 of them changing at the last minute because the elected candidate died before they could cast their votes. None have altered the result of an election. The last case was in 2004, when a Democratic elector from Minnesota cast a vote for John Edwards instead of John Kerry, in what many believe was a mistake, according to FairVote. It’s very rare for an elector to cross party lines; the last case was 1972, when a Republican elector went for the Libertarian candidate.

Satiacum says he’s unsure what he’ll do in place of voting for Clinton, and he has criticized Republican nominee Donald Trump. But he told the AP that some electors from other states had thanked him, adding that he hoped others would follow his lead.

"This is a time we all need to stand up and speak out," he said.

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