While ballots were still being counted in precincts across the state, Christopher Muste stood before his intro class on political science fielding questions from students.

For many college-aged voters, Tuesday marked their first election and, like most Americans, they too felt a sense of post-election relief.

The ugly campaigns were over at last.

“The students are trying to figure out what happened, and if it will always be like this,” said Muste, an associate professor of political science at the University of Montana. “The questions they raised are questions everyone has – why is it so difficult to vote, why are there so many negative ads, why isn’t there a limit on campaign money. They’re in the process of digesting it.”

They also may be trying to digest the role they played in the outcome of several statewide races this year. In Montana, an analysis of returns and county-by-county voter turnout is under way to gauge the role the college vote played in the election.

Given Tuesday’s long voter lines in Bozeman and Missoula – home of the state’s two largest universities – experts suspect that the youth vote may prove strong once again. The student-heavy precincts, Muste said, may show the greatest statewide increase in turnout.

“We saw the longer lines in Missoula and Gallatin counties in 2006 the first year there was same-day registration for the Montana Senate race,” said Muste. “A lot of (Jon) Tester’s margin came from those two places.”

Tester won that race in 2006, topping former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns by just 3,562 votes. Many believed the student vote would again play a crucial role in Tester’s re-election bid, and perhaps it did, experts said.

Andrea Marcoccio, executive director of Forward Montana, said the organization is currently working to poll its numbers to assess student turnout. The group registered 11,421 students at UM and Montana State heading into the election.

“We had an additional 17,000 young people register statewide this year,” she said. “A huge percent was people we had face-to-face contact with. We spent 30 days prior to the election talking to folks, meeting them, going door to door and turning them out to vote.”

The group also launched some edgy campaigns to get the attention of students, joining the national “Vote F*cker” effort born in Oregon. Volunteers at UM on Tuesday said the slogan was aimed at young voters who felt the older generation was attempting to suppress their voice.

Marcoccio said Forward Montana also pushed hard to turn out support for Steve Bullock, who narrowly defeated Rick Hill in the gubernatorial race.

“We knocked on thousands of doors in support of Bullock’s stance on education, his proposal to freeze tuition,” said Marcoccio. “Our demographic is directly impacted by the policies of our next governor, and I think students were a determining factor in the outcome.”

Muste said students had mixed feelings about the outcome of the election. While UM is often branded as a liberal bastion, he said that’s not necessarily true, and many young conservative voters were disappointed by the election results.

“My Republican students are a little in shock,” he said. “They expected things to go better, both in the state and nationally as well. But for all of them, regardless of party, they believe the system has flaws worth fixing, but it’s not hopelessly broken.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, martin.kidston@missoulian.com or @martinkidston.

(5) comments


Interesting just how partisan our schools are. Starting from the first grade, students and indoctrinated into the democratic party which further assures that the "entitlement" mind set will be here for a long time. Hard work, dedication, and responsibility are a thing of the past. Knowing how to "game" the system, spread the wealth, and rely on the government for everything is the standard at all levels now. The bar has been lowered so there are no losers, just winners as evidenced by the last election. Where else can a president that created a $16 trillion dollar debt be re elected--a county commissioner that has been in office when our county is dead LAST in economic growth for 4 years in a row with more restrictions on freedoms imposed on a daily basis, plus the highest real property tax rate in the state?? The good folks that voted for more of this kind of government should be proud, they are part of the destruction of the greatest country the world has ever known. Just wait and watch----


@ bwana, 20% of our military is under 21, should we not allow them to vote too? please go call somebody who has been to Iraq/Afghanistan an "irresponsible child" @ Roger, 70% of students at the UofM and MSU are from in-state, so most of them do live here.


Then the students from Missoula can vote in local elections - out of staters should vote absentee in their home state. Nobody's denying them the right to vote.


Know it all children...just ask one of them! and we allow them to vote on how our Country & State will be managed when they can't even legally buy a drink until their 21...because they proove irresponsible? We really need to re-think our election laws and not allow children to vote when they are not the ones who pay for their decisions.


According to the teacher, students wonder why it's so difficult to vote? What's wrong with them? It's too difficult for them to produce a valid ID? Furthermore, I don't believe non-resident students who come here to attend the university should be allowed to vote in Montana elections They should vote absentee in their state or country of origin.

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