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When young Missoulians turned out to the polls in big numbers last November, the response should have been an embrace of the newly engaged youth. After years of hearing about how young people didn’t care about politics, in this election Montana’s youth decided the fate of a U.S. Senate race. They also likely provided the margin of victory for the Missoula marijuana initiative, a measure that made adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority for local law enforcement. Unfortunately, now – because some people dislike these results – a campaign is being waged against young voters, accusing them of being lazy, uninformed, and thoughtless, when it comes to political decision-making. The Montana state legislature is considering HB 281, a bill that would end Election Day Registration in Montana. Nearly 4,000 Montanans took advantage of Election Day Registration, sometimes waiting in line for hours for the opportunity to vote. Here in Missoula County, elected officials including the County Attorney and our County Commission are intent on significantly weakening the marijuana initiative, claiming that the people who passed it simply did not know what they were doing.

Missoula’s Young Voters Deserve Respect, Trust

When young Missoulians turned out to the polls in big numbers last November, the response should have been an embrace of the newly engaged youth. After years of hearing about how young people didn’t care about politics, in this election Montana’s youth decided the fate of a U.S. Senate race. They also likely provided the margin of victory for the Missoula marijuana initiative, a measure that made adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority for local law enforcement.

Unfortunately, now – because some people dislike these results – a campaign is being waged against young voters, accusing them of being lazy, uninformed, and thoughtless, when it comes to political decision-making.

The Montana state legislature is considering HB 281, a bill that would end Election Day Registration in Montana. Nearly 4,000 Montanans took advantage of Election Day Registration, sometimes waiting in line for hours for the opportunity to vote.

Here in Missoula County, elected officials including the County Attorney and our County Commission are intent on significantly weakening the marijuana initiative, claiming that the people who passed it simply did not know what they were doing.

Let’s make no mistake. Some young voters are lazy. Some are uninformed. So are some older voters.

Academic research backs up the fact that young voters tend to be informed voters. Uninformed youth, according to studies, simply don’t bother to vote, meaning those who do vote care enough to not just participate in the democratic process, but to do so knowledgably.

Over the past several years, I have spent a lot of time educating and engaging voters of all ages. My experience has taught me that there are some extremely well educated young voters, And, as would be expected, there are some “more experienced” individuals who have taken no time to self-educate themselves about current politics.

This isn’t a “youth” problem. It’s a human problem and it’s an unavoidable flaw in a democratic society.

The question at the heart of the matter – whether certain people can be trusted with the powers of self-government – is at its heart a question of democracy. Two hundred years ago, a number of individuals launched a great experiment called America based on the premise that all of us are smarter than any one of us. Over the years, this system has been expanded, slowly granting the right to vote to groups other than land-owning white men.

This is not to say that representative democracy is without its problems. It is worth remembering the words of Winston Churchill. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

If we intend to use a democratic form of government, then we must encourage everyone, including our youth, to vote. In this case, that means allowing same-day voter registration – the single election reform proven most likely to increase participation without increasing the risk of fraud.

County elections officials no doubt oppose Election Day Registration because of the inconvenience it places on them. However, we cannot, as a state or a country, turn away voters because it isn’t convenient. If there are technical problems, let’s find a way to smooth-out the process, rather than excluding people from the process.

While county officials may have fair concerns over our current process, it is hard to believe that all of its opponents are arguing in good faith. The Montana House’s Republican majority is assuredly upset that a landslide of young votes helped knock U.S. Senator Conrad Burns out of office. Our County Commissioners and County Attorney are likely equally upset that young voters provided the impetus for passage of the marijuana initiative that they opposed.

Disagreement is as American as apple pie. But if bad decision-making was a fit excuse for exclusion from the process, why exactly would we exclude the generation least responsible for the national debt, global warming, the Iraq War, and the stagnation of wages for American workers?

The good news for America is that by all measures the generation currently coming of voting age is among the most publicly minded in years. The decisions that this generation will make will no doubt be different than some of the decisions made by our parents and grandparents (who, thankfully, often disagreed with their own parents and grandparents). But these disagreements are no grounds for exclusion.

Please welcome the young generation of voters. I am confident in their ability to be involved and to make sound decisions. One day we too will have to deal with the “darn kids” and their crazy ideas. Being involved now will help us to usher in that new generation with guidance, knowledge, and support, as older generations have for us.


Matt Singer is the CEO of Forward Montana, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging, mobilizing, and electing a new generation of leaders.

About Matt Singer

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4 comments

  1. Excellent piece, Matt. We must keep making voting easier and not harder. Although conventional wisdom says that Republicans benefit from suppressing the vote and Democrats benefit by increased voting so Republicans will fight this tooth and nail. Democracy is messy. The founders feared it, but knew it was the right way to go.
    They were much wiser and braver than the folks who are trying to squelch it in Montana.

  2. Once again, Why cheapen this wonderful idea with partisanship? Matt is absolutely correct – we need to encourage the young voters of the country.

    Maybe you are not old enough to remember the “Young Republican” movement in the 80’s but I certainly do. At that point, the Republican Party recongnised the same thing that the Democrats are just now recognising – that the youth of our country will one day inherit what we leave for them. It is in thier best interest to become involved and to become informed.

    My son and daughter have always been “politically savy” and I am proud to say that they vote (and have since they were old enough). Do we always agree? No, but that is the beauty of the Democratic Process. They are allowed to have thier own views and opinions. I can only hope that when I am too old to be actively involved in the process, they have learned enough and been involved enough to take the reigns…

    Democrat or Republican – let’s give the kids a hand…

    Moorcat

  3. The worst problem in this country will never be political activism; it will always be apathy. It speaks volumes about the Montana Republican party that it wants to prevent rather than encourage people to vote.

  4. In my family, voting is seen as something we all take part in. The kids come too, and we make up little ballots for them to make a vote. They come with me to vote and I take their ballots and we go home and have a voting party. So far they voted for peace, mother nature, and mom n dad.

    Your vote is your voice, use it wisely. What I find disturbing is that when laws are voted on, passed, sometimes several times, and then not implemented or respected because conservative right doesn’t agree. Quite frankly I do not believe war of any kind is the answer. I feel that greater humanity is the answer. A kinder, gentler approach to “drugs” and addiction. I support an end to the drug war and a beginning of better treatment that works, affordability & access to treatment, and adopt methods used in other countries that are not being used here. Prevention needs to be better too, first there is self esteem training, and parents spending quality time with kids and talking to them openly. Its better than DARE. (Cannibis is NOT the gateway, by far alcohol and ciggarettes are.) Love from home, and good esteem is the best prevention for anything.

    There has got to be a better way than jail becoming rehab centers. Start with all the mothers in jail for being enslaved by their addiction, put them all in treatment that works and get these families back together and back on track and out of the jails.

    Also, legalize cannibis and I’ll tell you why. Treating it like alcohol, selling in the same places, would implement immediate show an ID! Dealers do not ask for an ID. Dealers do not want legalization because it takes the money out of their hands and puts it into the hands and control of the state. We need to be able to tax it for education, we dont have anything else to tax and we need funding for ed.

    The loggers and farmers could benefit too. Commercial hemp farming would eliminate the need to use dwindling tree resources for making paper, when the paper mills can be using hemp in a coalition with MT farmers. Hemp is the way of the future for paper we should lead the way in this renewable resource. Cannibis should only be available for adults, its better than alcohol because it wears off quickly and people do not get as messed up. Many people need something to unwind from the stress of the day, and do not want to become alcoholics. In either case an adult must be responsible and use moderation. Noone should drive under any influence including prescription meds. Get a designated driver and be responsible. Legalizing cannibis would free up jail space, and funds to focus on more serious problems like Meth (toxic waste). It would make the police dept. less of a public enemy as well. I would like to see a more human police dept. One that is for the people and by the people.

    I have to give Missoula some credit the only time its been martial law here is when Idaho cops came and beat up a bunch of local hippie kids. Maced little girls in the face, moms came unglued, when the hells angels came, remember that? Please dont invite those crazy bunch of Idaho cops here again that was a travesty. Missoula cops used to be pretty nice and laid back until the Rolling Stone mag. did an article about it then they had to get hard nosed, thanks alot rolling stones. Its not their job however to make the laws, that is our job, the voters. In fact, many officers want legalization. http://leap.cc/

    I hope a greater humanity will reign over the world and everyone would be kinder to each other, and jail will not be the answer to everything, war will not be the answer either. Only the greatest love in the world can help us now, and its our love for fellow human beings. I would definitely vote for that and for more FREEDOM for the average person, in the age of no privacy, dwindling rights, economic hardships, rising costs of living, pressure and stress is at an all time high, we need for the law to ease up on the common non-violent person. -Peace everyone.