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Montana college students urging peers to register to vote

National Voter Registration Day events held
Voter registration
Posted at 6:16 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-21 09:44:45-04

BILLINGS — Montana nonprofit organizations hosted events around the state Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day.

Manning the voter registration booth at Rocky Mountain College were sophomore Mette Fears and senior Jacob Wissinger.

“I really do believe that the system only works when everyone is involved. So it’s nice to do one less barrier for any form of political participation," Fears said.

Fears and Wissinger are volunteers with Forward Montana, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voting advocacy organization that focuses on empowering young people to vote.

"We set up a little complimentary booth with candies, cookies, stickers, in efforts to get people to register to vote today. A lot of students aren’t registered, especially new students from out of state," Wissinger said.

It's young voters across Montana who are the target of new voting laws passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature. Three of these laws are currently being challenged in court.

The new laws require people to show a second form of ID to vote if the first is a student ID. They also bar voters from receiving an absentee ballot until they are 18. Previously, 17-year-olds could receive an absentee ballot if they would turn 18 by the time polls close on Election Day.

Another recently passed law that affects all Montanans is one that ends Election Day voter registration. Voter advocacy groups say people under the age of 35 make up the highest percentage of same-day voters in Montana.

But Fears and Wissinger say young voters are getting ahead of these changes.

“Especially recently with the lack of ability to use your student ID to vote I think that’s hard for college kids as well as just accessibility in the first place. It’s had to find a form, it’s hard to find a stamp to mail the form or to drive downtown to a random office to turn it in. So for us to be here and for people to come here for two minutes and then for us to be able to take stuff down to the office makes it that much easier," Fears said.

A lawsuit challenging these laws, filed by 10 plaintiffs including Montana Youth Action and the Forward Montana Foundation, is currently awaiting a ruling from Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses after a bench trial in his courtroom wrapped up one month ago.

Despite the legal drama around voting in Montana, Fears and Wissinger says registering to vote in Montana is easy.