The day has finally come. It’s Wednesday, Nov. 4. The election is over.

Does it feel surreal to say that? We’re writing this on Monday, Nov. 2, not totally convinced that we won’t wake up Wednesday to a “Groundhog Day” situation (‘Ooh,’ we’d think, as we checked our phones in the morning. ‘Friday, March 13. Spooky.’).

But we digress. In the early months of the pandemic and the tumultuous summer that followed, politics — and polarization — jumped to the forefront of conversation. Politicians campaigned on platforms supporting or opposing deeply emotional and important issues. Attack ads spread disinformation, and people all over social media, on both ends of the political spectrum, warned of fake news.

Then came fall, and the debates, and with them, a renewed surge of advertisements and mailers, texts and phone calls. If you’ve been in Montana, the equal parts xenophobic and perplexing accusations of politician relationships with China will be forever ingrained in your mind.

As a voter, it was exhausting.

And now, the election has happened — or, more realistically, is in the process of happening. In Montana, one Steve will proclaim victory in the Battle of the Steves, and a new governor and U.S. Representative will prepare to take office. After an endless campaign season, it might be tempting to tune back out for another four, or at least two, years. What’s done is done, right? We put in our time and energy and awareness, so now we can rest?

Wrong, actually. If anything, now is when your engagement matters most. Your civic duty extends beyond Election Day.

After the election, issues like public-lands access, the right to abortion, natural-resource management and healthcare will still require your attention, especially as the state legislature gears up for its 2021 session. Bills that affect all of us at UM, such as free speech on college campuses and higher-education funding, will likely come up for debate again.

Next spring, our local legislators will meet in Helena for 90 days to pass bills that correspond to the ballot initiatives you just voted on. Stay up to date on the debates and bills discussed in the 2021 state legislative session. Find out who your local representatives are and write them to express your support or opposition to various policies.

If you followed the recreational marijuana initiatives I-190 and CI-118, or the LR-130 gun-control legislation, you should remain interested in the policies our representatives and senators decide to pursue.

And think of the issues you didn’t get a chance to vote on directly, such as how state funds are allocated, reproductive rights and income taxes. After all, most of what legislators do is not backed up by a popular vote; it’s on us to make sure that the bills they draft and vote on reflect our desires. And if they don’t, to vote them out of office the next time around.

So please, stay involved. We know that it can be time-consuming and disappointing to keep up with politics. It can feel disempowering. But if you felt any pride or a sense of accomplishment when you turned in your ballot, hold on to that.

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