Robert Schlechter

Former representative and senator Jim Elliott’s summary of the Electoral College is surprising, considering that Montana’s 1 million-plus population puts it #45 in ranking if Americans were to cast a popular vote for President.

Instead, Montana’s four electoral votes put it a smidge ahead of the game. And when it comes to assessing what is of “equal value,” America’s constitutional model gives every state an equitable governing position in the US Senate. The Electoral College represents, and helps to implement, that policy.

Elliott is correct that “within the boundaries of a statewide of regional office all votes are equal.” But the President serves as the CEO of the federation of states, and represents the states in matters that are primarily external to the states: trade deals and treaties, defense and warfare, border integrity, and running the Executive Branch. No other office crosses borders and speaks for the whole.

Calls for more “equal” representation ignore the obvious: POTUS stands for “President of the United STATES.” Every state holds two popular elections, primary and general, for president. State electoral votes give voice to the jurisdiction that speaks for the voters. In the 2020 election a Montana voter cast one in 603,000 votes. If thrown into a massive national stew, that vote would have been one in 155 million votes. Just exactly how would that make anything, or anyone, more “equal”?

Elliot succinctly calls the Founders “men of vision.” But I disagree that there was a “lack of real guidelines” for them to follow. They knew their world history, that every direct democracy ultimately devolved into mob rule. They formulated not a democracy, but a federated republic. They were committed, above all, to holding the new Union together. The interests of sparsely populated versus large states, and yes, free versus slave states, loomed large. The Federalist Papers frequently refer to how state governments were structured, and make the connections to proposals within the new Constitution.

Finally, I differ with Elliot that the options for change are “either” a Constitutional amendment or an agreement among the states for a national popular vote. While Common Cause may support the national popular vote bills, 35 of the 50 sovereign state legislatures, including Montana, specifically oppose it.

If the national popular vote were to take effect, it would face numerous court challenges. In recent years three Supreme Court decisions (two of them unanimous) point away from that model. Each state legislature that has signed on to this scheme has done so in violation of its state constitutional residency requirements for voting.

In its totality, “the rationale for creating a system of electors” is as relevant today as in the past. The Electoral College builds a legal wall around every state for tabulating votes. Recall the 2020 election tabulation controversies in a handful of states. Thanks to the Electoral College, the 20 states that border the ones in question were unaffected by the disagreements.

Roberta Schlechter is a former legislative staffer and NW volunteer for Michigan-based KEEP OUR 50 STATES.