Forward Montana registers students to vote

It’s likely that most students at MSU have seen peers on campus with voter registration paperwork in hand helping the young people of MSU register to vote in Montana. The group behind this push for voting among students is ForwardMontana, a non-profit organization that works to get students more involved in government. Now in its tenth year as an organization, ForwardMontana continues to mobilize young people across the state, bringing higher voter registration rates and greater political awareness among young people.

Based out of Missoula, ForwardMontana is a non-partisan group that advocates not only for voter registration among young adults but also for policy changes that bring progress to the state. “ForwardMontana works to engage young people in government on a variety of different levels,” said Kiah Abbey, MSU graduate and the Bozeman director of ForwardMontana. Abbey got involved in ForwardMontana in spring 2013 and gained full-time employment after her graduation in May 2014. “We’re not just focused on getting young people registered to vote, we do a variety of things,” Abbey said, emphasizing the breadth of the involvement of ForwardMontana in Montana politics.

The most visible activity from ForwardMontana at MSU is the voter registration program. By making voter registration easy for MSU students through registration booths on the mall and mechanisms to boost registration, the organization has brought thousands of citizens the ability to vote. Registering ten thousand new voters in 2014 alone, the organization has made huge progress in bringing more young adults into the world of politics. Newly registered voters registered through ForwardMontana are mostly young people, who are the main priority for the organization’s voter registration program.

In addition to voter registration, ForwardMontana continues to work with government officials to keep the voice of young voters heard. The organization acts on policy changes based on their relevancy to the “Six E’s” that ForwardMontana advocates for equal rights, environmental protection, education, election reform, economic strength and fairness and “’ealthcare” (healthcare). The non-profit believes that these different facets of law are the most important to young people and the general betterment of government policy. ForwardMontana has worked on projects such as the non-discrimination ordinance in Bozeman and student debt reform, among others, and has fought bills such as LR126 which would restrict election day voter registration, an important service for first time voters.

ForwardMontana’s big focus for the future will be making changes to student debt policy. Currently, college students are graduating with an $27,000 averages in debt, a number far too great Abbey said. Abbey wants to communicate students’ concerns regarding debt after college to elected officials. “We want to make sure our elected officials know that students are watching and are holding them accountable,” Abbey said, hoping to bring the problem of high student debt to into the political limelight.

Abbey encouraged those interested in getting involved with ForwardMontana to do so. Offering a number of volunteering opportunities in addition to internships within the organization, ForwardMontana provides a way for young people to get involved with government. “We’ve got ties to a lot of different levels of government,” Abbey said. ForwardMontana can connect students with many opportunities to be a part of government and politics, whether that involvement be registering voters on campus, grassroots organizing or even writing policy for local government.

Those interested in getting involved with ForwardMontana are encouraged to email Kiah Abbey at kiah.abbey@gmail.com for more information about the many opportunities ForwardMontana has to offer.