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Four years ago this December, as the four electors of the Democratic Party of Hawaii were scheduled to cast their Electoral College votes for Hillary Clinton at the state Capitol, one of them changed his mind.
Violating state law, David Mulinix cast his vote instead for Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who finished second to Clinton in the Democratic primary season but easily defeated her in Hawaii’s presidential preference poll that March.
As The Associated Press reported, Mulinix — called a “faithless elector” — said he voted for Sanders “because he doesn’t feel Clinton is qualified to be president. He said if his vote would have made the difference between a Trump and Clinton presidency, he would have chosen Clinton.”
Mulinix’s vote counted, so only three of Hawaii’s four electoral votes went to Clinton. Hawaii Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago explained at the time that state law did not penalize electors for going against the statewide vote.
The AP also reported how there were protests outside the Capitol that December, folks venting their anger at the Electoral College and President-elect Donald Trump. Clinton had won the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes, after all, something Trump continues to dispute. But Trump won the Electoral College with 304 votes compared to 227 votes for Clinton.
“Seven electors, the most ever, voted for someone other than their party’s nominee,” said The New York Times, two from Trump and five from Clinton.
No matter. For the fifth time in U.S. history — and the second time in the past two decades — a presidential candidate won the White House while losing the popular vote.
Now, as the Nov. 3 election nears — and as some polls between Trump and Biden are tightening — there are media reports that America may not know who the next president is on election night nor the morning after, or even for days, weeks and months to come.
“Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states,” according to The Atlantic.
That got me wondering how Hawaii would factor into this. I also recently received an email from a retiree in Hilo who asked me, “What are the names of 2020’s Electoral College for our state of Hawaii? Why have I never seen the names of the electoral college publicly published? Is it? Who gets to see it?”
I’ll answer her questions first, then tackle what might happen with Hawaii’s electoral votes.
Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators and U.S. representatives. The total is 538 electors nationwide, with 270 the magic number to win the presidency.
Hawaii has no less than 72 electors total (more on that in a second), although only four of them are likely to matter, as Democrat Joe Biden is heavily favored to defeat the Republican president in Hawaii. Since statehood, we have only twice voted GOP for president — Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984.
The Democratic Party’s electors this year are Hermina (Mina) Morita, John William Bickel, Kainoa Kaumeheiwa-Rego and Michael Golojuch Sr. By law, they will meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December — this year, that’s Dec. 14 — at 2 p.m. at the state Capitol to cast their votes. Democrats have four alternate electors in case something happens with the electors, as well as another set of alternates as a secondary backup.
Even though Democrats have long dominated local politics, there are five other qualified political parties in the state that also have presidential electors: the Hawaii Republican Party, the Libertarian Party of Hawaii, the Green Party, the Constitution Party and (I am not making this up) the American Shopping Party.
Like the Democrats, each party has four electors, four backups and four backups to the backups — hence the total figure of 72. Sept. 4 was the deadline to submit their names to the state Office of Elections.
Among the names of Democratic electors that readers might recognize are state Sen. Lorraine Inouye of the Big Island, a first alternate, and Honolulu attorney Jeff Portnoy, a second alternate. GOP Party Chair Shirlene Ostrov is an elector, while Libertarian Chair Tracy Ryan is a first alternate. (Read the full list of electors here.)
Morita, a former state representative from Kauai and former chair of the Public Utilities Commission, ran for elector because she’s worried about the state of the nation.
“I just thought that this race was so critical in preserving democracy,” she said. “It is a real pivotal time for us all, and I wanted to take part somehow.”
If no presidential candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the U.S. House of Representatives elects the president. But, even though Democrats control the House, each state delegation has but a single vote.
Currently, Republicans have a 26 to 24 advantage in that regard. That’s why Morita is keeping a close eye on the race for Montana’s only House seat, where Republican Matt Rosendale and Democrat Kathleen Williams are running neck and neck.
But there are other possible outcomes to the 2020 contest. The Trump campaign “is weighing a post-election strategy that would bypass the results in key swing states by installing electors who would vote for the president in the Electoral College even if he loses,” according to The Atlantic.
Another possibility is that the election gets thrown to the U.S. Supreme Court, as it did when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000 by a 5 to 4 vote. With Amy Coney Barrett’s expected confirmation later this month, Trump could have a 6 to 3 court in his favor.
After the incident of the faithless elector in 2016, Hawaii’s Democrats changed their rules by making electors pledge to vote for the winning candidate. The initiative came from the Democratic National Committee.
“It’s an honor to be selected as an elector,” said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, chair of the local Democratic Party. “It’s part of American history. But when the Founding Fathers came up with the Electoral College, I don’t think they ever imagined that people from the Sandwich Islands would be voting for president.”
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may require members of the Electoral College to vote for the presidential candidates they had promised to support.
I am not going to use this space to argue the pros and cons of the Electoral College, except to point out that Maine and Nebraska pick their electors using a proportional system.
But I will close by noting that there is a movement to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who gets the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
According to the nonpartisan, nonprofit organizer of the National Popular Vote bill, 16 jurisdictions with 196 electoral votes have already enacted the legislation, including Hawaii, California, Illinois and New York — all blue states.
“The bill will go into effect when enacted by states with an additional 74 electoral votes,” says the group’s website.
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