On Tuesday, Feb. 23, Gallatin County commissioners voted to move the polling location for precinct 63B, which covers part of the MSU campus. They met at 9 a.m. and voted 3-0 to move the location to the Shroyer Gym. The polling location was previously Hope Lutheran Church, located at 2152 Graf St. Controversy arose over the old polling location because some students believed it would make it difficult for them to exercise their right to vote; Hope Lutheran is two miles from campus, is not on a bus route and does not have sidewalks or bike lanes on part of the route.
Due to the opposition from students and activists, commissioners approved moving the location to MSU’s Shroyer Gym. Last week, as requested, the commissioners received a contract reserving the gym for three days in June 2016 for the primary as well as for the general election in November. MSU waived the Gym’s normal $4,500 booking fee, bringing the fees down to $2,618 which will be paid by ASMSU.
Both MSU President Waded Cruzado and ASMSU President Levi Birky spoke at the meeting, with Cruzado advocating for accessible polling locations so students can “embrace voting as their civic duty,” and Birky stating that “MSU is setting the standard for learning and academic achievement in the community.”
Some commissioners argued that turnout for college-aged voters is so low that making a move specifically for them is unnecessary. Further, they contested that the move might actually result in a smaller voter turnout because parking will be an issue on campus which may make it seem less accessible to voters.
Kiah Abbey, the Eastern Montana program director of Forward Montana, went on the record in response to the commissioners, stating during public comment that she believed keeping the polling location at Hope Lutheran was “insidious,” saying, “it’s emblematic of an increased worth and investment of resources ascribed to the voters that always show up. That increased investment becomes recursive, communicating to young voters, voters of color and voters who are economically marginalized that their votes aren’t worth anything.”
She continued, “When you invest in deconstructing that myth, when you show in your actions that you truly do care about all votes, about the civic participation, about the representation of voters that may not look like you, this goes to both my fellow citizens and my elected officials, I think you’ll be surprised by the response you get.”
Also up for discussion at the Tuesday meeting was the possibility of reserving the Shroyer Gym and parking spaces for the 2018, 2020 and 2022 elections. After the 2016 election, a meeting is expected to be held to discuss the pros and cons of the move. County Commissioner Steve White pointed to a recent Bozeman Daily Chronicle article on parking issues at MSU, and expressed further concern about the accessibility of the MSU campus as a viable polling location. Commissioners are treating the move as a test run to evaluate potential issues.
The next step is for Election Administrator Charlotte Mills to send voters a map indicating where they should go to vote.
More background information about the polling location can be found at: msuexponent.com/news/2016/02/11/asmsu-executives-hope-for-movement-in-polling-location-change/