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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Four Washington Electors Break Ranks, Oregon Sticks With Clinton

They may not change history. But four Washington electors made history Monday when they broke ranks and voted for alternative candidates for president and vice president. This hasn’t happened in Washington in 40 years.

Meanwhile, all seven of Oregon’s Electoral College votes went to Hillary Clinton. Clinton easily won each state’s popular vote last month.

In Olympia, the day began with a protest on the steps of the state Capitol. Protesters held signs that read “Clearly Unfit” and “Electoral College: Vote Your Conscience” while chanting “We reject the President-elect.”

Watching from a distance was Trump supporter Walt Carter.

“I think they’re wasting their time,” he said. “It was a legally run election, we went through the legal process, everybody got a chance to vote, nobody’s vote was tampered with, they’ve already figured that out. But if these people want to protest, that’s their right.”

The official action happened at noon inside the ornate State Reception Room. It began with a Native American blessing. There were three tribal members among the 12 electors. The group also included three African Americans, one Muslim college student and a transgender person--all Democrats.

When the votes were cast, four of the electors broke ranks. Three of the so-called Hamilton Electors cast ballots for former Secretary of State Colin Powell. A fourth voted for Faith Spotted Eagle , a Sioux tribal member who has become a face of the protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Other Washington electors said they felt duty bound to vote for Hillary Clinton. All 12 of Washington’s electors were pledged to support Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine because they won the state. The protest voters face a potential $1,000 state fine.

Afterwards elector Phillip Tyler said he was troubled by the protest votes. He heads the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.

“Because I feel we are divided as a nation along political lines as it is and now we are divided internally amongst our own political parties,” Tyler said.

But Bret Chiafalo, a co-founder of the so-called Hamilton Electors, defended his vote for Colin Powell as “doing the right thing.”

“It doesn’t matter how many people stand up and do the right thing,” Chiafalo said. “It’s if you individually you stand up and do the right thing.”

Chiafalo and the other three breakaway electors now face potential $1,000 fines.

In Oregon, anti-Trump demonstrators gathered on the front steps of the state Capitol before the ceremony and shouted slogans like "follow the will of the people" and "popular vote." The protest wasn't aimed so much at the seven Oregon electors as it was a criticism of the Electoral College system as a whole -- a system that gave Trump the White House despite losing the popular vote nationally.

Protester Cindy Gyurgyik of Silverton said she's already looking ahead to the next election in 2020.

"For me personally, I'm just going to stay strong for the next four years and make sure the message stays strong, that everybody feels protected, that he doesn't back us up 50 years and all of the rights that we've gained over the years,” Gyurgyik said.

Inside, the normally low-key Electoral College process mostly stuck with the script. But one elector, Democratic Party of Oregon chair Frank Dixon, said he and his fellow electors were formally objecting to the day's proceedings.

"To allow further inquiry of the electoral process given the interference by the Russian government in the election process,” Dixon said to cheers in the Senate chamber.

The cheers from the packed gallery were quickly gaveled down and Dixon removed any element of suspense by clarifying that he and the other electors still planned to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton. And while Donald Trump won the national Electoral College vote, it still marked the first time Oregon electors cast their vote for a woman. That wasn't lost on elector Karen Packer.

"It feels outstanding,” she said. “I wish it would have been under more positive circumstances."

Packer said she'd love to see a woman run for President again, but said it's far too soon to start thinking about specific candidates.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."