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Campaign 2004: American Indians outpoll others in N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. - A higher than expected turnout in counties where American Indians live is an indication that a get-out-the-vote campaign has been successful.

North Dakota experienced numbers nearly five times higher than the last presidential preference caucus held in 2000, and District 4, where the Three Affiliated Tribes is located, surpassed all predictions. In fact District 4 with 565 votes nearly quadrupled the number of voters of Fargo District 44, which had only 156 votes.

"What happened in the polls on Tuesday (Feb. 3)proves that we are learning how to work the system. We are learning how to effect changes through the ballot box," said Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes and president of the National Congress of American Indians.

He added that the effort to bring American Indian voters to the polls will continue for the next nine months.

In a national address on the state of Indian nations Hall said Native Vote 2004 will attempt to turn out 1 million voters nationwide.

"A large Native turnout in key swing states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Oklahoma may likely determine who controls the White House and Senate," Hall said.

Statistics from the Three Affiliated Tribes show that of the 10,500 voters in North Dakota on Feb. 3, 1,230 were American Indians.

Other North Dakota districts with American Indian populations did not do as well. The districts on the Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock and Spirit Lake reservations totaled 559 voters combined.

Three Affiliated voters overwhelmingly supported Sen. John Kerry with 72 percent of the vote, second was Wesley Clark with 20 percent, Howard Dean and John Edwards with .03 percent, Al Sharpton received only two votes and Joe Lieberman received no votes.

Statewide Kerry received 50 percent of the vote, Clark received 23 percent, Dean 11.7 percent, Edwards 9.7 percent, Kucinich 2.9 percent, Lieberman .9 percent and Sharpton .3 percent.

"The 2000 presidential election showed that out of millions of votes cast, a President can be elected by only 500 or so votes. Tribal nations have to be ready to go to the polls and re-claim the right to determine our own destiny. If we don't, we lose. It's that simple," Hall said.

To make a pledge to turn out 1 million votes in Indian country is a risk, one that Hall believes will come true.

"I've talked to the (presidential) candidates and they know now the importance of the Indian vote. We are working in Wisconsin, and states like Oklahoma, California, New Mexico and Arizona that have large Indian populations."

Hall said the Bush administration has cut budget priorities for Indian country and will not respond to treaty tribes, "we can talk 'till we are blue in the face," he said.

NCAI invited all the candidates to its recent gathering, including President Bush who did not attend. He also did not respond to a questionnaire about Indian issues, but cut revenue in his budget for Indian country, Hall said.

Hall said organization and teams in every community on Fort Berthold were the reasons for such a voter turnout success story.