A Yellowstone District Court judge struck down three bills that passed in the last legislative session, finding that they harmed college students’ right to vote at the end of September.
House Bill 176 would have ended same-day voter registration. HB 530 prevented ballot collection, which is commonly used by organizations like the Montana Public Interest Research Group and Western Native Voice to help Montanans turn in their ballots.
And Senate Bill 169 cut out college IDs as an acceptable form of voter identification on their own. To vote with a college ID with that bill on the books, you’d need some other form of ID to verify — like a bank statement or paycheck.
Each of these bills passed the 2021 Montana Legislature on party lines, with Republicans voting for them and Democrats against. On the surface, these bills may not have seemed sinister, but according to testimony in the case, more was happening in conversations behind the scenes.
Former Republican House representative Geraldine Custer of Forsyth testified at the trial that the GOP caucus in the legislature specifically aimed to limit college students’ ballot access with these bills. And the Secretary of State’s office was intimately involved with these bills as they went through the legislature too.
“The general feeling in the caucus is that college students tend to be liberal,” Custer, a former Rosebud County election administrator, said in her testimony. “That’s the concern with all of them voting.”
Custer tried to run for a Senate seat this year after terming out of the House of Representatives, but lost in her June primary before this trial started.
But based on her statements, it’s clear that the party dominating the Montana Legislature and the executive branch, along with every other statewide office, doesn’t want college students to vote. That idea is one that’s incredibly concerning to us here at the Kaimin.
Our right to vote and choose our representatives, regardless of who we vote for, is foundational. It’s what our democracy was built upon.
The idea that college students should be excluded from voting based on how we cast our ballots is at best discriminatory, as the court found, and at worst anti-democratic.
In a not far-off world where our generation is at the helm of politics, not including us in the process of deciding who’s representing us is basically asking us to be apathetic about politics. That is the opposite of Gen Z’s sentiments. Those young voters have been on the front lines of issues from abortion access to gun violence.
Montana’s government has a reputation of accessibility. We often get to know our representatives, and with a constitution that makes the processes of the Legislature highly public, we get to offer our input.
But if the Legislature doesn’t even want our voices to have the basic chance to be heard with our votes, it only works to erode our trust in Montana’s government and the people running it.
Instead of trying to exclude college students from the table, perhaps the Republican party would be better served by bringing them to it. Be open with us. Talk to us. Ask us what issues need addressing on campus. We’re happy to tell you.