Threats and Intimidation? Inside the Lawsuit Against Colorado Sec. of State
Last week, two of Colorado’s presidential electors, the people who cast Colorado’s votes in the electoral college, filed a lawsuit against their Secretary of State, Wayne Williams, alleging that he “threatened and intimidated” them into voting for Secretary Hillary Clinton in December 2016.
Colorado, like many states, has a law that requires its electors to vote for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates who received the most votes in the state during the general election. However, there was a movement across the country following last November’s election to try to prevent Donald Trump from getting the necessary 270 electoral votes to be named president by voting for a third candidate who would take votes away from both Clinton and also Trump.
The movement gained traction in Colorado, and a number of electors decided to vote for John Kasich for president, instead of the state’s general election winner, Hillary Clinton. One of those electors, now a plaintiff in the lawsuit, emailed Secretary of State Williams and asked what would happen if he voted for someone other than Clinton. Williams replied that the elector would be removed from his office and replaced until all of the elector spots were filled with those who would vote according to the state’s election results.
Williams had also stated at some point following the email that any elector not voting for Clinton would be subject to misdemeanor or felony perjury charges. Therefore, the two plaintiffs preemptively filed for an injunction to be able to vote their conscience so as to protect themselves from removal or criminal charges. The court refused to grant the injunction.
On the day electors gathered to cast their votes, two instances occurred which plaintiffs say amount to threats and intimidation. First, the Secretary of State forced the electors to take an oath that was written minutes prior to the meeting and which included them swearing to vote for the person who won the general election, over objections from the Plaintiffs. Additionally, Williams told the press prior to the vote that anyone violating the terms of the oath could be subject to felony perjury charges.
Following this, Michael Baca (who is not a plaintiff), cast his vote for Kasich and was immediately removed from his post as elector, disregarded his vote, and recommended the Colorado Attorney General investigate whether he had committed criminal acts, an investigation which is still open.
The lawsuit, which was filed by nationally-renowned law professor Lawrence Lessig, alleges that Baca’s release and Williams statements to the press amount to threats and intimidation. The suit asks for the Colorado statute that requires electors to vote in line with the general election results unconstitutional.