Colleen O’Brien didn’t know her usual polling place wouldn’t be open for Montana’s May 25’s special election to fill Montana’s U.S. House seat until last week. “It’s making it incredibly inconvenient at best, and it is disenfranchising an underserved, underrepresented population at worst,” O’Brien says. O’Brien votes in East Glacier, on the Blackfeet Reservation, in Glacier County. The election administrator there has decided to cut five of its usual polling places, consolidating seven down to two — not five as we erroneously reported earlier. County officials say that’s necessary to cut costs, but O’Brien, who’s not Native American, worries the consolidation will make it harder for people living in more far flung areas of the reservation to vote.
“The reservation is vast,” O’Brien says. “There’s no public transportation. Many people don’t have reliable transportation. Many people have mobility issues, and traditionally we’ve always voted in our own communities.”
She says having fewer polling locations is an unfair way to treat tribal members, who she says are disproportionately represented in the military but underrepresented politically. O’Brien adds Native Americans weren’t even guaranteed the right to vote until the late 1960s. In this special election, she says it’s especially important that election officials ensure that every voice is heard.