My grandfather Melvin Running Wolf was only 36 years old when all Native Americans finally gained the right to vote in the United States. Imagine that. Only three generations ago, not all Native Americans could vote in elections due to frivolous state laws that acted as barriers to the ballot box. Although Natives gained their citizenship in 1924 and states were allowed to determine voting rights, many states created laws with the intent to interfere with many people’s right to vote. People like my grandfather, who served in the military, was a proud U.S. citizen, a hard-working family man, and a productive member of society, were targeted with these laws.
With that said, you can imagine how disgusted I get when I see lawmakers in our state trying to do it again. Politicians don’t get to pick and choose who votes in a democracy. All citizens are guaranteed the right to vote. The citizens who drafted Montana’s Constitution knew that, and they also knew that opportunistic politicians would try to chip away at that fundamental right. So, they made it pretty darn clear: “no power … shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
There’s been plenty of interference lately, though. Republicans have been fighting tooth and nail to interfere in Montanans’ free exercise of their voting rights as much as possible. They passed multiple laws to make it harder for young folks, Native folks, and elderly and disabled folks to vote. An elderly person who doesn’t drive anymore could be turned away for not having a driver’s license. A kid who turns 18 on election day couldn’t get an absentee ballot. A renter whose roommate has the utility bill in their name could be denied a ballot. And a Native person living on a reservation who can’t make two 100-mile round trips on roads buried in two feet of snow couldn’t register and vote on Election Day.
To me, that looks like a pretty blatant and cynical attempt by some politicians to pick their voters, instead of the other way around. If your strategy is to make it harder to vote, you aren’t a champion of democracy. But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when that strategy is coming from the same folks who shamelessly call our Constitution a “rag” that needs to be “thrown out”.
I believe in the free exercise of the right to vote, without interference, and regardless of the outcome. Because I’m a Montana Democrat, and that’s what every one of us believes. We know our elections are secure, and we trust the Montanans who run them. We don’t undermine this foundation of our democracy by inventing nonsense and sowing doubt about the integrity of our elections, even when those elections go against us.
Let’s be clear, when Republicans tell you that illegal votes are being cast, or that our elections are insecure, they are lying. They hope that distracting us with lies and sowing doubt in our elections will provide them cover to dismantle our constitutional rights. I’m pretty sick of distractions and excuses from politicians who won’t leave well enough alone and use their powerful positions to address the real challenges that are making life tough for us and our neighbors. I bet a lot of other folks are sick of it too.
I know my grandfather, who was a man of integrity, truth, honesty, and fairness would not take these interferences lightly, and neither will I.
Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, represents House District 16 in the Montana Legislature.
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