Montana is one of only four states that doesn’t allow someone under 18 to serve as an election judge. Unfortunately, it’s going to stay that way. House Bill 510, a bill to allow qualified Montanans to serve as election judges starting at age 16, failed in the Montana House of Representatives after six representatives switched their votes between second and third reading.

Enfranchising voters at a young age goes beyond simply allowing them to register to vote at 18. It’s so important to show new voters the ways their voices matter, from the voting booth to the Capitol. This bill would have allowed young people access into our elections and democracy sooner and more often — something we know increases not only turnout, but helps us develop a sense of responsibility and power in our government.

This legislation would also have been a boon for County Clerks across the state. Poll worker positions are notoriously hard to fill, and HB 510 would’ve provided an entire additional pool of potential election judges. Plus, we’re often pretty tech-savvy. Our familiarity with technology could come in handy helping Election Day run smoothly.

And yet this bill, like many other common-sense elections reforms this session, is dead. Why? That’s a question we’re working to answer, calling legislators to hold them accountable and asking other people to do the same. Six legislators voted yes on second reading and switched to no votes by third reading — Fred Anderson, Julie Dooling, Ross Fitzgerald, Mike Hopkins, Llew Jones and Ray Shaw. Decision-makers should be advocating for more accessible and equitable ways for young people like us to get involved in our democracy, not putting up barriers.

Montana had the highest youth voter turnout increase in the entire country between 2014 and 2018, from 18 percent to 42 percent, and we played a pivotal role in the 2018 elections. Young Montanans are showing up in record numbers at the polls — so, why aren’t our legislators showing up to encourage us to be there?

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Clara Bentler is a senior at Billings Senior High school and is the student body president, involved in speech and debate and Model United Nations. She was an organizer for the March for Our Lives Billings and was a former intern at Forward Montana. Renn Stearns is a sophomore at Hellgate High School.

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