As a resident of Montana — one of the least populated states in the country — sometimes I can’t help but feel like my vote doesn’t count on a national level.


When I was a student at the University of Montana, I had a front-row seat for the hype surrounding the 2008 presidential election. There were Obama buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers everywhere I turned, and I couldn’t walk across campus without at least five people trying to hand me a voter registration packet.


When it came down to it, though, the presidential race was pretty much decided before the Montana votes had even been counted, making election night sort of anti-climactic for all of the local campaigners who worked so hard to encourage voter participation, especially among young people.


This coming fall, however, Montanans should have extra motivation to hit the polls. According to political experts, the 2012 election cycle could be the most important one our state has seen in quite some time.


A recent report by the Washington-based publication “Politico” ranked Montana’s U.S. Senate race as the most competitive contest in the nation, with current Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester facing a formidable opponent in challenger U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who has served in Congress since 2001. Recent polls have shown the two candidates in deadlock.


You’ve probably already seen a slew of TV attack ads targeting both candidates, and they will only become more prevalent — and, if you ask me, annoying — the closer we get to Nov. 6.


The elections to fill the House seat being vacated by Rehberg and the governorship (Brian Schweitzer has hit his term limit) should also draw plenty of interest.


So even if you tune out the media slugfest, get to know the candidates and the issues. Election Day will sneak up on us before we know it, and you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to truly have your vote count.


Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.