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Voting for a change

Why Dave Mulinix broke state law to cast his electoral vote for Bernie Sanders

Will Caron

Above: Dave Mulinix at the People’s Congress the first weekend of December | Will Caron

This morning I asked David Mulinix how he was feeling the day after breaking ranks with his fellow Hawaiʻi electors—and the law (technically speaking)—and successfully casting his Electoral College vote for Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton. (Mulinix also became the first elector in U.S. history to vote for a Jewish American candidate in the college.)

“Shocked. Hundreds and hundreds and—I can’t even keep track of how many people are thanking me. It’s like a flood,” was his reply.

After his vote, one of the camera operators that was present, a young man, came up and earnestly thanked Mulinix for what he had done. “And that was really cool because that’s who my vote was for. It was for the millennials who were abandoned and then used by the Clinton campaign. They deserve this vote.”

Mulinix had previously said he would vote for Clinton but, when he got there, he didn’t know what to do. “I still couldn’t get behind voting for Hillary Clinton. She’s not a progressive, her so-called experience as Secretary of State was gained during a disastrous tenure for people around the world in which she championed policy that has destabilized the Middle East region and sent refugees fleeing and destroyed whole cities,” he said. “I just couldn’t vote for her.”

For awhile he thought about voting for Jill Stein, but wasn’t sure he would be able to, or what that would mean. But then he heard the news about David Bright from Maine who tried to cast his vote for Sanders, and he decided he would try to do the same.

“The number one job of the Electoral College is to keep unqualified people out of the Oval Office, and I don’t believe Hillary Clinton is qualified,” said Mulinix.

Although state law says that electors must vote for their Party’s nominee, it does not say what to do in the event that someone disobeys, including failing to mention any penalty. Fellow elector John Bickel asked for clarification on this point before the vote because he thought that someone might decide to vote for Sanders, and was hoping to make the process clear. Bernie Sanders won Hawaiʻi during the Democratic primaries by approximately 70 percent of the vote, but Clinton became the Democratic Party nominee afterward.

“But you know what, when you’re doing the right thing, you don’t think about consequences,” said Mulinix. “And millions of people supported Bernie Sanders, and worked their butts off for a year in his campaign, and I think they deserved at least one Electoral College vote.”

Mulinix joined the Democratic Party to support the Sanders campaign. Part of the strategy was to try and get as many Sanders supporters into positions within the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi as they could so that they could begin to push the party toward a more progressive platform, which they believe is closer to the wishes of the majority of Hawaiʻi democrats. So, Mulinix says, he ran for every position he could.

“A couple of my friends at the State Convention—one was with the labor unions, one was within the Sanders campaign—went around and convinced their colleagues to vote for me. I didn’t even realize what I had run for when they first told me I’d been made an elector,” he laughed.

By the time Mulinix voted, Donald Trump already had 304 Electoral College votes. His vote was not going to change the fact that, come January 20, the Trump administration will officially begin. Instead, Mulinix decided to make his vote count toward something else.

“Thanking the Bernie Sanders supporters, acknowledging their hard work—because they certainly were never acknowledged by the DNC for their dedication to peace and justice and to stopping climate change—that’s what my vote was for,” he said.

Mulinix just came back from Standing Rock, North Dakota, and says that being with the people there and adding his hands to the work being done there may have affected his decision to trust his gut and break the rules.

“When they’re standing against the pepper spray and the water cannons and the rubber bullets, they just hold on to one another and remind themselves not to be afraid.What’s gonna really destroy you is fear. They tell each other that they’re here to do the right thing, and they don’t need anyone’s permission to do it. So maybe that was all in the back of my mind when they put the ballot in front of me.”

This whole Electoral College episode, in which many hoped the College would act to prevent a Trump presidency (the “safeguard” argument has long been a favorite of proponents), only to have that dream (in my opinion) predictably crushed by cowardice and inertia within our two-party system only serves to undercut the relevancy of the Electoral College system. And with Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now at almost 3 million (largely from California, I’ll admit), it’s the second time a republican candidate has won the presidency without the majority of American votes in the last 16 years. But even though the other three electors voted for Clinton, all three of them, including the Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi, admitted that the system is outdated. And maybe that’s a starting point for a conversation about reforming this outdated system and finally moving democracy into the 21st century.