Electoral college members in Washington state have been dealt a setback in their effort to keep the presidency away from Donald Trump.
After a hearing Wednesday in Seattle, U.S. District Judge James Robart said so-called faithless electors can still face fines for departing from their pledge to support the winner of the popular vote.
Two Washington electors, Bret Chiafalo and Levi Guerra, sued the state, saying they shouldn’t face fines for voting their conscience.
These so-called “Hamilton Electors” say Trump is unfit for the presidency. Their nickname comes from Alexander Hamilton’s belief that electors should function as a check on the popular vote. They say they’re trying to persuade enough Republican electors to join them that Trump won't have the necessary 270 votes to reach the White House.
Chiafalo says he wants to break his pledge but doesn’t have a specific candidate in mind.
“It’s not up to me as one individual elector to decide that,” Chiafalo said. “We’re trying to discuss it with as many Republican electors as we can. And when we’ve decided on someone we will let you all know.”
A lawyer for the Washington State Republican Party said electors’ fears of being fined are speculative right now, and these cases are harming the orderly transition of power.
An attorney for Trump said electors give up their First Amendment rights when they agree to perform this role.
Judge Robart denied the electors’ request to avoid fines. He said the potential fine does not constitute “irreparable harm.”
By text message, Guerra said that she does not consider herself a "faithless elector."
"My strongest reasoning for doing this is keeping the promise I made my constituents," Guerra wrote. "This really does give me the opportunity to keep that promise. By standing up and showing that we are willing to compromise, we are able to encourage Republican electors which, from what I have seen, is working."
Electors have brought similar cases in Colorado and California. The Colorado lawsuit also failed and has been appealed. Chiafalo’s lawyer, Sumeer Singla, says his clients will decide soon whether to appeal.
Washington’s electoral college members are scheduled to vote on Monday.
Isolde Raftery contributed reporting.