When Montana became a state back in 1889, most of its adult residents weren’t allowed to vote.
Montana women were granted suffrage in 1914, six years before the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to all U.S. women — except for Native Americans.
Native Americans were denied the right to vote until a federal law was enacted in 1924. Even after that, the Montana Legislature created tax-paying and residency requirements that kept most Native Americans from voting, as Patrick Reilly noted in an Oct. 17 Missoulian story.
Until 1971, only people age 21 and over could vote. The 26th Amendment extended voting rights to people 18 and older, largely in recognition of the fact that 18-year-old American men were being drafted for the Vietnam War.
Despite laws that guarantee their right to vote, young adults and Native Americans remain less like to vote than the general population. That trend must be reversed. All Montanans and all Americans should be part of deciding how their government will work and who will lead it.
Restraints and obstacles to voting are still with us, even in the Great Plains states. In North Dakota, a new law threatens to disenfranchise Native Americans who don’t have street addresses that the state suddenly started requiring for early voting.
In Wyoming, a group of Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal members was initially refused their request for voter registration in Fremont County. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, a county elections employee in Lander told the tribal members that they each needed a valid Wyoming driver’s license to register and vote when, in fact, Wyoming law allows for alternate forms of identification. They ultimately were allowed to register after the County Democratic Committee chairman was called.
Montana is not immune to voter suppression efforts. Montana’s state legislative districts are drawn to avoid diluting the Native American vote after a series of voting rights lawsuits in the last century.
Ever since late/Election Day registration became law in Montana, some lawmakers have tried to repeal or restrict it. There’s even a legislative referendum (LR-129) on Tuesday’s ballot that would make returning absentee ballots more difficult.
Such attempts to discourage voters should be met with resolve to overcome them — for ourselves and our fellow Montanans. It’s your right to vote; don’t let anyone stop you.
Our late registration law protects Montana voters from being disenfranchised by voter roll purges that have kept people from voting in other states.
Take nothing for granted. Make sure your vote gets counted.
If you are in the majority of Montanans who have already cast General Election ballots — that includes more than 53,500 voters in Yellowstone County alone — thanks for participating in your government.
The Gazette has printed more than 500 letters to the editor since the start of September; most were about elections. The volume of local commentary is unprecedented. It’s great that Montanans are speaking up for what they believe is right and necessary. Words matter, but action matters more.
If you haven’t voted yet, cast your ballot by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Talk may be cheap; your right to vote is priceless.