Florida electors go for Trump amid protests

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With more attention than usual --- following the most-unusual presidential campaign in recent memory --- Florida's 29 electors met Monday to formally cast their votes to send Republican Donald Trump to the White House.

A last-ditch effort in Florida, and across the nation, tried to get members of the Electoral College to bolt from Trump and throw the election into the U.S. House, where supporters hoped that a more mainstream Republican could prevail.

But the effort largely fizzled, with only four defections reported Monday in Washington state and two in Texas. Three of the Washington electors voted for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and another voted for Native American leader Faith Spotted Eagle. One Texas elector voted for former Republican Congressman Ron Paul, while another voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

In Florida, the votes for Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, were never really in doubt. The slate of electors was made up of GOP stalwarts, from fundraisers to activists to elected officials.

None of them voiced any doubt about voting for Trump, despite the fact that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the popular vote nationally by more than 2.5 million votes. That, Trump's supporters pointed out, is not how presidential elections are decided.

"The strategy was to spend all of your money in these truly swing states that decide the presidency," said state House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and elector. "That was the strategy that both sides invoked. Obviously, one was successful and one wasn't."

Outside the Senate chamber at the state Capitol, where the electors gathered, about 100 protesters asked Trump's supporters to look elsewhere for a president. Signs referred to Trump as racist, sexist or xenophobic.

"Trump Has No Conscience. Do You?" read one poster. Another, alluding to Florida's role in the disputed 2000 election that saw Republican George W. Bush elected despite losing the popular vote, said: "I can't believe I have to protest this again." As the electors voted, protesters chanted "Love Trumps Hate."

In addition to the argument that Clinton won the popular vote, some protesters portrayed Trump as the kind of dangerous demagogue that the Electoral College was meant to prevent.

"This is the time," said Anne Timoner, a self-described liberal Democrat who said she would join a movement against the Electoral College if Trump won. "And I'll say another thing to them: If (the electors) don't do it now, they do not deserve to exist. ... I think this is their life-or-death moment."

Some electors said they didn't hear or didn't pay attention to the chants of the protesters outside the chamber. But it was hard to ignore a torrent of messages leading up to the votes. Some of them were belligerent and included death threats.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said he received about 55,000 emails, pieces of mail and Facebook messages asking him to change his vote.

Ingoglia, who is also a state representative from Spring Hill, thanked electors after the vote for persevering.

"I know it was a long, hard haul and I know over the past couple of months you have been inundated with a lot of sometimes harassing messages asking you to switch your vote," Ingoglia said. "And I know that for many of you, if it was like me, it was an intrusion on your privacy, and it took away some family time."

Others didn't seem to mind. Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who served as an elector, said he also heard from thousands of people inside and outside of Florida wanting him to back another candidate.

"I viewed the public input a little differently, as redress of grievances," Negron said. "And so I didn't really object to the vast majority of people that wrote or contacted us (who) were reasonable."

He also shrugged off the less-tolerant messages.

"It was such a small percentage that I don't think it's worth noting," Negron said.

Ingoglia said he believed that the protests would lead to a wider movement, of the sort described by Timoner.

"I think that this is a start of a narrative that the left wants to have from now up until the next election cycle and the election cycle after that for a push for a national popular vote, which obviously our government was never intended to do that," he said. "We're a constitutional republic; we're not a democracy."

The opponents made clear they want to have such a discussion.

"We're here to say we don't want that system anymore," said Maxwell Frost, state organizer for Democracy Spring, which planned demonstrations against the electoral vote in all 50 states. "And we're here to tell those electors that they should vote with the United States of America, which is against Trump."