Native American voters have more direct influence in New Mexico then in any other state. As a constituent group, Native voters represent more than 9 percent of eligible voters. And those percentages are growing fast because of Indian country’s younger population.
At a W.K. Kellogg meeting in May, Alvin Warren, a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo, and principal and executive vice president of Blue Stone Strategy Group, said the Native American population has increased from 134,000 in 1990 to almost 220,000, or roughly 11 percent of the state’s total population.
However that growing clout means there is more pressure to limit the Native American vote.
“In New Mexico, we actually have had very similar experiences to the South when it comes to discriminative, active and intentional, systemic and institutional, with regard to native voting,” Warren said. “…. since 1975, several New Mexico counties that have been under federal monitoring for voting rights violations.”
Warren said: “I’m proud to tell you, though, that after all of that, we are in this incredible period of resurgence, of Native people regaining our voice and our vote. We have 65,000 registered Native American voters in the state, which I think is going to go up, probably to 70,000 to 75,000. We have 11 counties that have a significant Native presence, 91 precincts.”
Warren said there is an increasing number of Native Americans running for office – seventeen at one point – and a coalition defeated three different voter ID proposals. At the panel he said there are only two Native American senators and three representatives, but he said those numbers will increase as civic engagement increases. “I would say the majority of tribes now are actively involved in doing some kind of voter registration,” he said. ”They’re in their communities doing voter education. My community, I’m proud to say, we’ve been actively doing this for the last, oh, five or six cycles.”
But that growing clout is exactly why there are renewed efforts to limit Native voting.
“A recording of the September 26th official ‘Poll Challenger Training’ conducted by the Republican Party shows a GOP & Tea Party leader giving false and/or misleading information about voting rights and regulations to the training's attendees. The training was replete with misinformation about ID requirements, the use of provisional ballots, assistance for Spanish-speaking citizens, change of address requirements, and the rights of the disabled at the polls,” the release said.
“Throughout the training the Republican Party representative shows an insensitivity to language minorities and disabled citizens and displays a concerning lack of knowledge regarding New Mexico's voting regulations – this lack of knowledge could have a harmful effect on Election Day when the people who attended these trainings begin trying to challenge votes at the polls. If the attendees of these trainings – and trainings likes these that have occurred or will occur – attempt to challenge votes because of what they learned, it could lead to many problems at the polls and has the potential to disenfranchise voters who have a legal, legitimate right to exercise their civic duty on Election Day,” said Progress Now New Mexico.
If all voters participate New Mexico is no longer a swing state, but safely blue. President Barack Obama won the state by 15 points four years ago. However a recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal shows Obama only leading by five points this time around. So there is a political reward for discouraging voters.
The Senate race between Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Rep. Heather Wilson is a similar story. (The Navajo Nation this week endorsed Heinrich. But just a week ago the speaker of the Navajo Nation Council expressed support for Wilson in a letter.) The Albuquerque Journal says Heinrich is maintaining an 8 point lead over Wilson. However just this week, American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s political operation said it would invest a half million dollars into New Mexico.
Rove might be spending a lot of money, but it’s an open question whether it’s enough to counter the combination of the Native American and Latino vote.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.