Montana’s three votes in the Electoral College went Monday to Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, as expected.
This year's proceeding was different from those in years past, with Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch allowing audience members to speak before the electors, two of whom were alternates, filled in their ballots.
Montana’s electors had said before Monday they would vote for Trump. Though the odds of an Electoral College upset were minuscule, nationwide there had been calls for electors to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote by almost 3 million, while others asked electors to select anyone but Trump.
McCulloch told those gathered that the electors were bound by Montana law to cast their vote for Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and she couldn’t accept ballots that did otherwise.
Before electors Thelma Baker and alternates Vondene Kopetski and Becky Stockton voted, a handful of Montanans spoke in support of and against Trump. About 35 attended.
Susan Reneau, who came over from Missoula, said she was proud to stand in support of Trump. She started to say that President Barack Obama had been an “abomination to our military and everything economic in our entire country” before McCulloch reminded her to keep her comments positive.
Lee Malcheski, of Helena, asked the three to hold off on voting until an investigation into Russian interference in the election was made public.
McCulloch said she made the choice to allow comment, saying at other public meetings she’d attended that day the audience was allowed to speak.
“It is a public meeting and I believe the public should have access,” she said.
Elector Nancy Ballance, a Republican state representative from Hamilton, choose Monday to let an alternate take her place. Ballance said this was because state law says lawmakers cannot hold civil office. She said electors in other states with similar laws had been threatened with legal challenges. She said she consulted with the attorney general and others over what defined a "civil office," but couldn't find a clear answer.
“In my mind it wasn’t worth taking a chance to have the vote thrown out later,” she said.
Ballance told her grandson, Jack, 8, who spoke in support of Trump before the vote that he should look back on the day with pride.
"To my grandsons who are here today, who came to see their grandma participate in this historic event, I say to them, 'When we look back and America is truly great again, we will know that we were part of something bigger than ourselves.'"
Controversial elector Dennis Scranton, from Miles City, did not attend. McCulloch did not say why. Parts of Interstate 90, which is between Helena and Miles City, were closed due to a blizzard the last few days.
Scranton, 92, had made comments disparaging gay marriage on a Facebook post earlier this year. He told The Billings Gazette in November, misstating his age: “Don’t forget, I’m 93 years old. I come from a different era. I hadn’t heard of anyone being homosexual until I joined the Navy, and then I encountered them. We were raised with good morals.”
Elector Thelma Baker, the only nonalternate to vote Monday, said she received hundreds of phone calls and emails, both from those who supported Trump and people calling on her to cast her vote for someone else. About 75 percent of those who telephoned, Baker said, told her they didn’t vote in the election.
This is Baker’s fifth electoral vote. She said she received some comment before the 2000 election in which Republican George W. Bush won the electoral college but lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore, but received no comments in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Alternate Thomas Tuck also did not come to the vote. If enough electors had not shown up, McCulloch said, she would have had to appoint someone from the audience.
Earlier Monday morning, 30 protesters gathered on the steps of Montana’s Capitol ahead the state’s electors casting their votes.
“I fear his skill with public speaking and charisma with a crowd has blinded people to elect someone who is not truly qualified,” the Rev. Cathy Barker said. “There are serious questions about the Russian involvement, he’s refused to share his taxes, his conflicts of interest and his integrity. These things break my heart.”
Standing in a circle in 20-degree temperatures, the protesters struck a somber tone as they voiced their fears about a Trump administration, including climate change denial and nuclear weapons policy, sexual-assault allegations and foreign business interests.
The “liberal” media, one protester said facetiously, failed to investigate Trump sufficiently.
Jon Gengler of Helena said he wanted to challenge the assertion that Trump’s win was either historic or a mandate, pointing to his loss of the popular vote and average margin in the Electoral College.
While he hoped to reach Montana’s electors, Gengler said he spoke to anyone who would listen, including Trump supporters.
“Radical individuals believe Trump speaks for them, and he must show that he is not willing to accept the support of racists or other exclusionary groups for political gain,” he said.