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Montana voting

It might not seem like one little vote can make much of a difference, but the truth is that Montana voters are among the most powerful in the nation. Montana’s relatively small population means each and every vote to fill a federal office packs an outsize punch.

That’s why we’ve seen millions of campaign dollars pour into the Treasure State this election, all aimed at influencing as many of those individual votes as possible. No amount of political advertising, however, can compare to the power of even a single ballot.

Yet midterm elections typically see dramatically lower voter turnout than during presidential election years. That’s a shame, because it means a lot of potential voters opt not to use the significant influence they wield — at every level of government.

This Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters will choose which candidate to fill one of two U.S. Senate seats for the next six-year term, and which candidate to act as our sole representative in the U.S. House. The Senate race in particular is drawing a lot of national attention because voters in our humble state may just help determine which political party controls this powerful chamber of Congress. By some estimates, Montana voters have the second-most influence in the United States, after only North Dakota, when it comes to Senate voting power.

While the House vote doesn’t carry as much clout, Montana has only one representative in that chamber, making it an equally important decision for our state’s future.

And of course, local and state elected positions may be decided by razor-thin margins. Voters may never meet their U.S. senator or congressman in person, but they are very likely to rub elbows with their state legislators, who will spend only a few months at the Capitol in Helena during the legislative session and the rest of the next two years at home in the same neighborhood as their constituents.

It’s time for Montanans to flex our considerable muscle by exercising our right to vote. Those who already have turned in an absentee ballot aren’t off the hook, either; we all have a civic duty to encourage our eligible friends, family and acquaintances to cast their ballots. Let’s demonstrate that neighborliness Montana is well known for, and offer to help any fellow voters who need assistance, either because they are new to the process and need help understanding the election system, or because they need help with transportation.

Montana is one of only 16 states where more than half the ballots are sent by mail, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Nationally, less than 62 percent of eligible voters actually voted in the 2016 presidential election. In the previous midterm, in 2014, it was slightly more than 36 percent. Greater participation is expected this midterm, but that remains to be seen.

The personal finance website WalletHub ranked Montana eighth for the percent of registered voters who cast a vote in the 2016 election, and 12th for those who voted in the 2014 midterms. In terms of political contributions per adult population, Montana came in third. And when it comes to overall political engagement, Montana earns eighth place.

This year, voters can do even better. Absentee voters received their ballots weeks ago. They have had plenty of time to study the candidates and the issues and to decide the best way to return those ballots — by mail, in person or via drop-box. Remaining voters who will be casting a vote in person at a polling place have just a couple of days left to prepare themselves.

(A wealth of information on particular issues and candidates is available on mtstandard.com.)

Our officials will be looking for lessons from the results of this election, making it particularly important for voters to send a strong message. Voters can and do control the direction of public policy, and help set the tone for public discourse.

This is our opportunity, as voters, to have a say in how our government is working for Montana and for the rest of the United States.

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— The Missoulian

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