By Martin Kidston
Volunteers with Forward Montana broke out the “vote goats” at the University of Montana on Tuesday and encouraged students to fill out their ballots, saying this year’s election could effectively determine their future.
Joined by Gov. Steve Bullock and Denise Juneau, superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, field organizers urged students to head to a pop-up campus voter station and weigh in on this year’s litany of issues.
Gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte also urged students to vote while campaigning elsewhere in Montana.
“This election is so important to so many students, because the issues that really matter to us are at stake this year,” said Clair Babcock with Forward Montana. “There’s this misconception that young people don’t care about politics when they very much do care about politics, they just aren’t given the opportunity to express that care.”
Holding one of the two vote goats by the reins, Babcock said students are enthusiastic about this year’s election, one in which Sen. Bernie Sanders helped fan the flames early in the campaign.
During voter registration, Babcock said students are given a survey asking them to list their most important issues. The environment, education, economic justice, election reform, equality and health care have risen to the top.
Races up and down this year’s ticket will decide any number of those issues, Babcock said.
The UM sociology student wasn’t alone in delivering that message.
Bullock and Juneau gathered nearby on campus with a crowd of roughly 100 students to paint a distinction between themselves and their opponents, saying the younger generation could effectively decide the outcome of this year’s races.
“I know many of you are turned off by the divisiveness being generated by the presidential race, and I am too,” said Juneau, who’s taking on Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, in the state’s congressional race. “It’s up to you to do something about it. There’s a lot at stake in this race. Not just at the national level, but right here in Montana.”
Juneau touched on the issues important to college-aged voters, noting her support for equal pay for women, ending workplace discrimination and funding college grants. She urged students to not only vote, but to consider their choices wisely.
“If your vote is your voice, then your voice is amplified here in Montana,” Juneau said. “We had a U.S. Senate race that was separated by just a few thousand votes. You need to be sure your voice is heard, because it matters.”
Bullock also took the opportunity to distinguish himself from Gianforte, his Republican challenger, noting their differences on public education, access to public lands, election transparency, jobs, health care and a woman’s right to choose.
“If everyone aged 18 to 30 even voted at the same level as seniors, you’d decide every single election,” Bullock told the crowd of students. “It’s absolutely up to you all to say what Montana is going to look like in the future.”
Gianforte also urged students to vote, saying no outcome was impossible.
“One of the things that impresses me about young people today is there is a strong desire to serve and make a difference in their communities,” Gianforte said. “For those of you who are 18, I hope you’ll take pride in exercising your right to vote this election. Just remember that, when you combine good leadership with hardworking Montanans, the sky is the limit.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org