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Students targeted by MT Legislation this session


Big Sky Connection

Helena, MT – Bills during the Montana legislative session restricted students' ability to vote in direct and indirect ways, advocates say. Comments from Amara Reese-Hansell, program director, Forward Montana.

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Students now have to show a second form of identification if they use their student ID to register to vote in Montana. (Jos/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

June 10, 2021

HELENA, Mont. - Montana students were the subject of multiple pieces of legislation during this year's session.

Amara Reese-Hansell, program director for the voting advocacy nonprofit Forward Montana, said a number of those bills will restrict students' ability to vote. That includes a law that ends same-day voter registration.

Reese-Hansell said election day can be the only time polling locations are open past regular business hours, making it easier for students who have classes or work at odd hours to register and vote at the same time.

"This session was really tough for young people," said Reese-Hansell, "and I think we'll continue to see the effects of this legislative session for decades to come."

Supporters of ending same-day voter registration say it makes elections more secure. Tribes and groups in the state are challenging the law in court.

Another measure, Senate Bill 319, bans voter registration and outreach on college campuses and near certain public facilities, such as college football games.

The ban was added to the bill two days before the Legislature adjourned. Forward Montana and other groups are challenging this law in court.

Lawmakers also created stricter voter identification requirements. While driver's licenses and concealed-carry permits are acceptable IDs for registering to vote, people who register with student IDs must present a second form of identification as well.

Reese-Hansell said for students, it takes away the one free form of identification they could present to register.

"There's a lot of reasons that a student might not have a license, especially if they live off campus," said Reese-Hansell. "Maybe they're using the bus. Maybe they're also working on campus and without being able to use that one free form of voter identification. That obviously produces a hurdle for young people."

Supporters say strict voter ID laws protect the integrity of elections.

One more law students are concerned about allows for concealed carry of firearms without a permit on college campuses. Reese-Hansell said this, along with voting restrictions, has caused some students to rethink where they get their education.

"This is detrimental to our rapidly growing university system," said Reese-Hansell, "to hear that bright minds and young people and students are considering leaving the state to go elsewhere and attend a campus that will keep them safe and protect their vote."

A judge blocked this law before it was scheduled to go into effect on June 1. This week, the temporary order blocking the law was extended.


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