By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
The table was rather inconspicuous, but the activity swirling around it could sway this year’s special election and decide who represents Montana in the U.S. Congress.
On behalf of the Missoula County Democrats, a small group of activists old enough to have voted for either Hubert Humphrey or Richard Nixon – though it was likely the former – gathered Monday at the University of Montana and registered a new crop of college-aged voters.
They call themselves the “Boomer Brigade,” and they like their chances going into May, when Rob Quist, a Democrat, and Greg Gianforte, the Republican, square off in Montana’s special election.
“It’s us – us boomers out here registering voters, especially for the special election, which is very important,” said Steve Hostetter. “We’re just four friends who decided we wanted to do something after the latest festivities, you could say.”
By the latest festivities, Hostetter is referring to last year’s November election that saw President Donald Trump elected to office and former Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican, hold onto his seat by defeating Democratic challenger Denise Juneau.
If the Boomer Brigade gets its way, the outcome in May could be a little different.
“The students have no idea how important their votes are,” said Lee Bridges. “They’re the ones who turned the election for Jon Tester back when he first got elected. Their votes count and I think we can flip this election.”
The election was prompted when Trump tapped Zinke to serve as secretary of the Interior. That caused Gov. Steve Bullock to set a special election for May 25.
With the date rapidly approaching and Memorial Day looming, party politicking across Missoula is gaining momentum, and local Democrats hope to get a strong college turnout, believing it could be enough to sway the election.
“We haven’t counted today, but we were here last week and we registered over 300 new voters,” said Mitch Hostetter. “It’s confusing where the ballot stations are going to be at this point. We’re also getting people who live here voting absentee, because they don’t know where their voting place is.”
Missoula County Elections Supervisor Rebecca Connors said around 50,000 county voters have already requested a mail-in ballot. Given that it’s an off-year election, she expects turnout at the polling stations to be light.
The county plans to open and staff 25 polling places, though eight of those stations have been relocated due to evening conflicts with local schools and churches.
And while many college voters don’t know the candidates on the ballot, both parties are looking to educate a new voting generation. The Missoula County Republican Central Committee couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“Getting out and talking to these younger people – it’s fantastic,” said Bridges. “It’s their government that they’re inheriting, and I’m happy to share our experience, given that we’re twice their age. It’s nice to share our experience with them and let them know how important it is to vote.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org