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How MT's New Student ID Voting Law Could Affect Turnout

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Monday, July 5, 2021   

HELENA, Mont. -- Voting-rights groups are concerned a new Montana law could depress student turnout in elections.

This session, state lawmakers passed a number of voting restrictions, including Senate Bill 169, which requires students to use another proof of identity along with a college-issued ID to register to vote.

Madison Morgan, secretary of the board of directors at the Montana Public Interest Research Group and a University of Montana student, laid out a common situation for students and one that would have kept her from registering two years ago.

"This law gives you the option of using a utility bill, a pay stub or things like that. Well, I moved into a dorm and I did not have a job the first fall here," Morgan explained.

The Montana Democratic Party has challenged the law in court. In a court filing defending the law, Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen's office said students often attend school away from their home state.

Morgan noted people just need to have lived in the state for at least 30 days to register to vote. Jacobsen's office also claimed the IDs are easy to forge. The office did not respond to a request for comment.

Morgan's situation is unique. She was born on a naval base in Puerto Rico and only lived there for three months. But birth certificates issued by Puerto Rico before 2009 are considered invalid because of worries they can be easily faked. So it has been hard for Morgan to get proper identification in the United States.

However, she added there are plenty of other situations that could make it hard for students to register.

"Whether it's that they're coming from a foster home and they lost proper identification, or there was a house fire, or at one point they were homeless, people shouldn't be punished for things like that," Morgan argued. "And I think that voting with your student ID was a great tool to keep young people voting."

The law could have an effect soon. Morgan noted the state is holding local elections this November.

"We tend to not see great turnout in any state, honestly, with municipal elections, but this is just another way to keep the youth voice out of it," Morgan contended.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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