Former newspaper reporter and TV drama creator David Simon launched a Hail Mary to stop President-Elect Donald Trump from assuming office — by offering free box sets of “The Wire” to any elector who turns faithless.
Just one problem: It’s probably against the law.
“Yeah, it’s illegal. It’s probably illegal under state law, as well.”
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“Yeah, it’s illegal,” said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of The Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative, citing the federal statute. “It’s probably illegal under state law, as well.”
The code makes it a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, for anyone who “pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting.” The language is broad enough to likely include the men and women who will meet Dec. 19 to cast ballots at the Electoral College to make the outcome of the Nov. 8 election official.
Simon’s offer, made on Saturday via Twitter, included not only the box set of his hit HBO crime drama, but one autographed by actors Idris Elba and Michael K. Williams. “And the first round on me,” he added, including the hashtag “#desperatetimes.”
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Joseph Vanderhulst, an attorney with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, agreed that offering something of value to influence an elector probably is against federal law.
“I’m sure there is state law on point, as well, depending on where it is,” he said.
Could Simon actually be prosecuted?
“Yeah, I think he could,” von Spakovsky said. “But the problem is this Justice Department has shown no interest in these cases.”
Von Spakovsky pointed to pressure that Trump electors from across the country have reported receiving. The Detroit News reported last month that Michigan elector Michael Banerian has received intimidating emails, including a death threat. Another elector, Kenneth Crider, told the paper that he has received more than 300 emails from people in other states asking him to vote for defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.
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Alex Kim, a Texas Republican elector, told a local TV news station that some electors have been threatened with harm or death. Similar complaints in Georgia and Idaho prompted the secretaries of state to issue warnings.
“It’s also a violation of federal law,” said von Spakovsky, referring to threats against electors. “But to this day the [Loretta] Lynch Justice Department has not done anything about it.”
Vanderhulst said a face-to-face offer of a bribe or a threat is not necessary to make a legal case.
“Things done on social media, just like the harassment going on, should be treated seriously,” he said.
Texas has no law against so-called “faithless” electors, and one of them — a paramedic named Christopher Suprun — said Monday that he considers Trump unqualified and will vote against him. A second Texas elector resigned his position rather than vote for Trump.
Meanwhile, Clinton may lose up to seven electors, three from Washington State and four from Colorado. The so-called “Hamilton Electors” have pledged to vote for another Republican as a gambit to stop Trump. But unless the Hamilton electors can persuade 36 other Republican electors to join Suprun in dumping Trump, all they will accomplish is widening Trump’s margin of victory in the Electoral College.