In an ongoing three-month long effort to make voting more accessible to the MSU community, ASMSU leaders are continuing a dialogue with Gallatin County commissioners on the topic of moving a polling location to MSU. Previously, voting for three precincts was done at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, a central location that ASMSU President Levi Birky and Vice President Holly Capp agree allowed voters without motorized transportation to travel to the polls with reasonable ease. Due to the data found in the 2010 census, however, this location has been replaced by Hope Lutheran Church as the area’s polling location.
Located two miles south of campus on 19th Avenue, the new polling place is not on a public transportation route for use by voters and does not have safe bike lanes and sidewalks leading to the church. Birky said that students will be negatively affected by this change: “Obviously that’s a concern for us because a lot of students don’t have cars.”
County commissioners met the requests to move polling locations with resistance. Birky and Capp recalled the concerns the commissioners voiced during their meeting. “They’re very reluctant because the voter turnout for people our age is low. They’re afraid it’s only going to accommodate a small population,” Capp said.
Another area of concern for the commissioners was that a move to campus will make it harder for some people to vote. According to Birky, accessibility regarding parking and the flow of heavy election day traffic is good at Hope Lutheran, where voters can easily park and walk into the polling area. While those living in town might be more likely to vote, it will be harder for voters further south of town to reach the polling location, according to Commissioner Don Seifert.
Birky rebutted this statement, saying, “Hope Lutheran is a good location for people that have a car. To those that don’t have transportation it’s kind of disenfranchising.” He believes that voting should be available to all, and the current location does not provide that. Birky said, “Voting is a civic right not just to the select few but to everyone.” Capp agreed: “We should be making [voting] accessible to everyone. Part of this issue is that if it’s not accessible, people won’t turn out.”
According to Capp, the total estimated cost of moving one of the three precincts scheduled to vote will be $2,000. This cost will likely be covered by a combination of funds from ASMSU and private sponsors.
Those who would like to voice their opinions on the issue are encouraged to attend the public comment with county commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 16 and 23 at 9 a.m. in the Courthouse Community Room at 311 W. Main St.