Local Government — Easier than You Think

It is a big election year. Every day brings news about Bernie Sanders riding coach, Donald Trump’s commentary on his hand size, Ted Cruz’s migrating booger and the feminism of voting for Hillary Clinton. It is a lot to handle, but exciting to watch. Local government just doesn’t make headlines. As a result, citizens forget just how much local elections impact them.

Millennials often use the excuse that their individual votes won’t make a difference. However, through voter registration, organizations like Forward Montana Foundation impact local (and even national) elections all the time. While the tendency for people to hyper-focus on the Presidential elections is valid and everyone should participate in those, local elections often result in more immediate results in the community and single votes have a huge impact on the eventual outcome.

Members of the local government, such as County Commissioner Steve White, Bozeman Mayor Carson Taylor and Montana State Senator JP Pomnichowski, agree that voter and government representative diversity allows for better governmental policies. Pomnichowski quoted a popular political slogan, “Government is run by those that show up.” Specifically, those who show up to the polls.

White stated, “In Montana, you have a voice.” Many local Montana elections are decided by less than 50 votes, which in itself insists that each vote is stunningly relevant. Further, Pomnichowski said that by not voting “you have given [others] the power to make your decisions for you.”

White spoke about his experience with County Commission meetings, which are held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday mornings: “I always take into special consideration when someone comes up to speak [at those meetings] and is nervous. That means that they care enough about the issue to show up and be uncomfortable.” The County Commission always opens the floor for public comment — which means everyone has the right to voice their opinions on any agenda item. This is especially important since the Commission does make decisions that directly impact MSU students and community members every single week.

Getting involved — and even voting — isn’t always a comfortable experience. It can be difficult to put oneself out there, or even to feel informed enough to get involved. All of Montana’s local government entities record their meetings. The minutes, agenda items and even videos and recordings can be found archived online. Montana is one of the most transparent governments within the U.S., thanks in part to the Open Meetings Law. It may seem daunting at first, but it can also be fun to feel like one is part of the change.

No matter what, citizens and especially young citizens should get involved on any level they can. Particularly in Montana and local government, everyone has a voice and therefore everyone can make change. “Even if being an informed voter is all you have time for, do that,” Pomnichowski stated, “Do whatever you can.”

Sonja is a post-bac currently studying English literature. Their goal is to give voices to minority groups and to hear those voices speak out — particularly in local politics. They’d love to be approached with any questions or opinions on campus. Sonja can be reached at sonjaabenton@gmail.com.

For more information on Montana’s government and the services it offers, please visit: mt.gov/services/default.aspx or mt.gov

For more information on Montana Boards, Councils and Commissions, please visit: svc.mt.gov/gov/boards/

For more information on voting within Montana, please visit:

sos.mt.gov/Elections/Vote/index.asp or for information on your voter status, visit: app.mt.gov/voterinfo/

For more information on applying to be an Election Judge, please visit: sos.mt.gov/elections/Officials/documents/Serving-as-an-Election-Judge.pdf

For information on anything having to do with local government, please visit: mt.gov

How Do I Know if I can Vote?

  • You don’t need to be a Montana resident, you only need to live here for 30 days before the next election
  • You need to have a MT Driver’s License or the last 4 numbers of your Social Security Number
  • Anyone can get an absentee ballot
  • All other rules are detailed at sos.mt.gov/Elections/Vote/index.asp

How Do I Get Registered?

  • Voter status can be checked online, at app.mt.gov/voterinfo/
  • Just fill out one form! You can fill one out with:
    • Forward MT representatives are on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays, and show up at many local events, like concerts, balls, fundraisers and farmers’ markets
    • The Elections Office, located on the 3rd floor of the Courthouse on Main Street near the Wells Fargo

When Are the Next Elections?

  • The next election decides on school board items and candidates and will be held by mail-in vote in May.
  • The Montana Primaries are on June 7, and will also be mail-in. Voters will be sent both Democratic and Republican ballots, choose which one to fill out, and mail that one in.
  • Election Day is in November.

Anything Else I Should Know?