Taylor Blossom, Voting MSU

All In Program Coordinator Taylor Blossom, 22, poses for a photo outside of SRO Espresso on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in the Strand Union Building. 

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Montana State University is participating in a national campaign and partnering with Gallatin County to increase its student turnout in November’s election.

As part of its push to increase student participation, the University will host a Gallatin County ballot return site from Oct. 9 until Election Day, and a satellite registration office from Oct. 27 to 29.

“I’ve always thought that voting was the fundamental piece to our democracy,” said Taylor Blossom, in his fifth year at Montana State University. Blossom is coordinating the university’s participation in the national All in Campus Democracy Challenge.

He said he was involved in voting access for students during his three years in student government at the university, and working with the national voting registration campaign seemed like a natural fit.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge encourages universities across the country to participate in a friendly competition of increasing student-voting rates, Blossom said.

“I think everyone is already excited to get out and vote but I think sometimes it can be trickier to with COVID and with less opportunities for community organizations to help register students,” he said.

He added it was an opportunity for the university to step in and fill in some of those gaps. The university is hoping to have 100% of eligible students voting in the election, but more realistically the goal was at least 50%, he said.

He said it was typical for a lot of students to show up at the county courthouse on Election Day to register, but they are hoping to have more students register early to decrease the crowds.

Montana’s regular voter registration deadline is Oct. 26, but residents can register for late registration at the county’s election office or a designation location until the polls close.

“We’ll hopefully get students registered and participate early, especially with the additional obstacles due to the coronavirus,” he said.

In an email to students on Sept. 2, MSU President Waded Cruzado also encouraged students to register to vote, calling it a “precious” right.

“Voting is part of being a citizen in our nation’s democracy,” Cruzado wrote. “Many city, county and state races are determined by just a handful of votes. Your vote matters.”

Cruzado reminded MSU students they are eligible to vote in Montana’s elections, but can’t vote in both their home state elections and Montana’s.

Janelle Booth, with MSU’s Government Affairs Office, said civic engagement is a strong component of the mission of land grant universities like MSU.

“It’s so important to make students aware of the importance of voting, while making it assessable and keeping the community safe,” Booth said.

Booth said MSU has also created a website with voter registration resources and deadlines specific to Montana and Gallatin County.

Blossom and Booth said the University has been working closely with the county’s election department to increase the opportunities for students to register and return their completed applications.

“Mail ballot elections provide greater opportunities for the Election Department to be more dynamic and creative in the ways that we serve the voters,” said Casey Hayes, election manager with Gallatin County.

Hayes said the county typically sees a high volume of registration from MSU students the week before an election.

“This seemed like a perfect opportunity to minimize lines and crowding at the election office while retaining the partnership with ASMSU for this election,” Hayes said.

Hayes said he was hopeful the additional satellite services and the shorter late registration period would limit the number of people who need to appear in-person on Election Day.

The ballot return site — strictly for Gallatin County ballots — will be in the office of the Associated Students of Montana State University, second floor of the Strand Union Building. It will open Oct. 9 through Election Day, which is Nov. 3.

The Gallatin County Election Department’s satellite office will be in the west side of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse from Oct. 27 to 29. There, students will be able to register to vote and have ballot-related issues resolved.

Blossom said he and the University are hoping student voter participation will go beyond this election. He said there is evidence that when a student participates in an election, the odds of participating again increase significantly.

“We’re focused on the issue not just for right now but next fall when we’re away from an election,” he said. “We want to keep students engaged, then we can take that success and continue to build on it.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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