By Deb Courson Smith

Montana ranks fourth-best in the nation in a new survey of how states treat their younger voters – but even near the top, there’s room for improvement.

The group Rock the Vote compiled a scorecard that tracks how well each state is preparing young people to be good citizens and informed voters. States were judged on how easy or tough it is to register and cast a ballot, as well as how civics education is handled in high school.

Montana wins points for same-day registration, early voting and the ability to cast absentee ballots. A strict new government-issued photo-identification law passed by the Legislature would have hurt the state’s ranking if Gov. Brian Schweitzer hadn’t vetoed it last month, says Thomas Bates, Rock the Vote’s vice president for civic engagement.

“Across the country, it’s estimated that 11 percent of people don’t actually have a photo ID. So, these are real barriers keeping people out of the system.”

The survey found that many states are passing the ID laws as a result of concerns about illegal immigration, Bates says. Some have raised concerns about the possibility of voter fraud with same-day or online voter registration, and Montana has seen proposals to eliminate it. Bates says young voters aren’t the only ones inconvenienced when the option is not available.

“There are plenty of reasons why people aren’t on the rolls and realize it too late. I think there needs to be a failsafe for people who evidence an interest and willingness to vote but are trapped by this kind of antiquated system.”

Montana could improve its score, he says, by offering pre-registration for those soon to turn 18.

The survey results are online at rockthevote.com.