Saturday, June 15, 2024

Freedom to Vote Act secures Montana’s democratic legacy

by Nancy Keenan
| November 12, 2023 12:00 AM

In Montana, our strength lies in our sense of community. As a child, I learned this at my kitchen table, where my father instilled the significance of our democracy and the values that every Montanan holds dear. These lessons drove me to a life of public service and allowed me to form lasting relationships with people throughout our state. Honesty, respect and altruism are the foundation of Montana, and they bind us together. 

While individualism is vital to Montana, it does not define us. Instead, our democratic values stem from a long history of fighting for what is right instead of for political gain.

There are undoubtedly new threats to our democracy. Some of these may be external; however, many are wounds we inflicted upon ourselves. Growing mistrust in our electoral process and low turnout at the polls could tear down the core tenets of our democracy. Fortunately, the Freedom to Vote Act will restore trust in our elections and allow Montana and our nation to thrive again. 

From the peaks of the Rockies to the open frontier, the distinct character of our state makes us great. If these differences divide us rather than unite us, they will be our undoing. One remedy is at the ballot box. 

While the right to vote is imperative, ignoring the concrete barriers to exercising it would be remiss. Nearly half of our state’s population lives in rural areas, where limited access to polling centers can complicate the voting process. The Freedom to Vote Act outlines protections for every Montanan, ensuring our freedoms are within reach. 

However, expanding this right is meaningless if we cannot mend the trust deficit between our government and its people. In Montana, our expectations for our leaders are straightforward: act in good faith and prioritize the will of the people over partisan gains. Our laws, standards, and moral codes are there for a reason – to hold those in power accountable and ensure justice. 

The Freedom to Vote Act is the vehicle through which we can manifest our values in our leaders. This bill shields election officials from partisan influence and requires greater disclosure of campaigns’ foreign contacts. It’s a promise that all players will put the needs of the people first, whether they are non-partisan public servants or political candidates. Corruption, special interests, and the power of wealth may never fully disappear, but by enacting this legislation, we can restore the vital checks and balances that protect our country and its people.

Reflecting upon my two decades of service to Montana, one lesson stands out: the importance of compromise. We are a state of diverse interests, but left, right, or middle, we must all come together for the common good. Compromise involves risk, but we must take that risk to build a more resilient and just state. The Freedom to Vote Act is a prime example. It may not solve all our problems, but it will improve our democratic process and fortify its integrity. Thankfully, leaders like Senator Tester understand this principle. He leads on this issue not out of political ambition but from a resolve to safeguard our democracy and ensure Montana’s voice resonates in Washington.

Recent attacks on our democracy may seem discouraging. Despite these challenges, there are many things we can do to uphold our values. As countless generations before us have done, we must instill the meaning of democracy in our children, vote in every race, and push our leaders to advocate for fair and free elections. Together, our small efforts can defend the democratic legacy we cherish.

Nancy Keenan is a former state representative from Anaconda and former state superintendent of public instruction.