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MT Voter Rights – Know Before you Head to the Polls

PHOTO: Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund wants voters to know their rights before they head to the polls. For example, a photo ID is NOT required in Montana. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
PHOTO: Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund wants voters to know their rights before they head to the polls. For example, a photo ID is NOT required in Montana. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
November 5, 2012

BILLINGS, Mont. - The Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund is warning that voter suppression is something to watch for in Big Sky Country on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, and that the best defense is knowing your voter rights. Montana voters are required to show identification, but a wide variety of documents will work, including a utility bill, a pay stub, government check or tribal identification.

Former Salish and Kootenai Tribe chair James Steele, Jr., says that with strong voter turnout expected in Indian Country he is encouraging people to speak up if they are challenged at their polling place.

"A lot of people don't want to confront election officials, particularly Native people, it's not in their nature to confront."

While some states require a state-issued photo ID, Montana does not. Steele says anyone encountering a challenge can contact the Voter Rights Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE, or the Montana Secretary of State.

Steele says there have been reports of organizations training people in Montana to be "poll watchers" in order to intimidate voters, especially young voters, those who are low-income, and minorities. Even when voter discouragement isn't coordinated, it still happens when poll workers are uninformed, with Steele citing an incident a few years ago involving a Native voter.

"She was registered, everything else, and they told her she couldn't vote that day, which wasn't true. And so I had to go and bring that person back up there."

866OurVote.org is another option for Montanans who have voter rights questions, or need to report voting problems.

The Montana Secretary of State's website with election information is sos.mt.gov.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT