Den­ver judge re­jects elec­tors

Judge warns of “reper­cus­sions” if the cam­paign to block Trump con­tin­ues

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Frank

Colorado pres­i­den­tial elec­tors who do not vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton as the win­ner of the state’s vote risk crim­i­nal charges af­ter a Den­ver judge de­liv­ered the sec­ond set­back in two days to an ef­fort to block Don­ald Trump from win­ning the pres­i­dency.

Den­ver District Judge El­iz­a­beth Starrs ruled that state law re­quires mem­bers of the Elec­toral Col­lege, when the body meets at noon Mon­day, to vote for the pres­i­den­tial and vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates who re­ceived the most votes in Colorado.

The or­der also granted authority to Sec­re­tary of State Wayne Wil­liams, a Repub­li­can, to re­place elec­tors who vi­o­late the law — es­sen­tially end­ing Colorado’s role in the “Hamil­ton Elec­tors” move­ment to keep Trump from the White House.

“If (pres­i­den­tial elec­tors) take the oath and then they vi­o­late the statute, there will be reper­cus­sions,” Starrs said in an or­der from the bench.

The judge de­clined to out­line the pos­si­ble penal­ties but said she be­lieves state law al­lows elec­tors who take the oath as a pub­lic of­fi­cial to face crim­i­nal charges. Pub­lic of­fi­cers charged with fail­ing to ful­fill their duty, a mis­de­meanor, can re­ceive up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.

Demo­cratic elec­tors in Colorado are threat­en­ing to aban­don Clin­ton and part­ner with Repub­li­can elec­tors in other states to nom­i­nate an al­ter­na­tive can­di­date — a last­ditch move to pre­vent Trump from re­ceiv­ing the 270 elec­toral votes needed to win.

The Demo­cratic elec­tors were cho­sen by state party ac­tivists at con­gres­sional and state con­ven­tions in April. Two of the Colorado elec­tors are Bernie San­ders loy­al­ists, and one sup­ports Clin­ton. But all adamantly ar­gue Trump is un­qual­i­fied for of­fice.

Mo­ments af­ter the rul­ing, the

two elec­tors who ap­peared in court Tues­day de­clined to say how they will vote when the Elec­toral Col­lege meets at the state Capi­tol.

“As some­one once said, we are go­ing to keep you in sus­pense,” said at­tor­ney Jesse Witt, quot­ing Trump.

The two elec­tors, Polly Baca, a for­mer state law­maker, and Robert Ne­manich, an El Paso County teacher, are con­sid­er­ing whether to seek an emer­gency ap­peal of the rul­ing to the state Supreme Court.

The rul­ing, Witt said, is a “fun­da­men­tal abridg­ment to their right to free speech and free ex­pres­sion.”

An­other Demo­cratic elec­tor, Micheal Baca, who is not part of the court case, has vowed not to vote for Clin­ton.

A day ear­lier, the elec­tors lost a sep­a­rate bid in fed­eral court for an in­junc­tion to block the en­force­ment of the state law on the grounds it is un­con­sti­tu­tional. The elec­tors ap­pealed the case Tues­day to the 10th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, but it’s un­clear whether it will get a hear­ing be­fore Mon­day.

The en­tire “faith­less elec­tors” ef­fort is un­prece­dented in Colorado and led Wil­liams to ask the Den­ver judge to make a rul­ing about how to re­spond if mem­bers of the Elec­toral Col­lege vi­o­lated the law.

Witt ar­gued the re­quest over­stepped the court’s authority, de­spite a broad state law that gives judges the abil­ity to in­ter­vene in elec­tion cases.

“Es­sen­tially … they are ask­ing you to take off your judge’s hat, put on your leg­is­la­tor’s hat, write out a bill, and then put on your gover­nor’s hat and sign it,” Witt ar­gued in the three-hour hear­ing. “And that’s not some­thing you can do with our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment un­der the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers.”

As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Chris Jack­son told the judge that the state needed guid­ance to pro­tect the in­tegrity of the process. “We need an or­der. … That is the only way to stop these elec­tors from dis­en­fran­chis­ing over 3 mil­lion vot­ers in Colorado who have made their wishes known through the elec­toral process,” he said.

Witt coun­tered with an ar­gu­ment that many of them share the elec­tors’ con­cerns about Trump and “be­lieve that the Elec­toral Col­lege has a fed­eral duty to pro­tect against some­one al­legedly un­der for­eign in­flu­ence, al­legedly un­fit for of­fice.”

Out­side the court­room af­ter the hear­ing, Wil­liams said that if elec­tors take the oath and cast a vote for an­other can­di­date, they should face crim­i­nal charges. “I think if you take the oath and im­me­di­ately vi­o­late it, I think that’s ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

But he hopes it doesn’t come to that point. “I think the elec­tors will think about that,” he added. “And it’s my hope that each of the elec­tors will make the de­ci­sion to fol­low Colorado law.”

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