After months of debates, primaries, and so many negative ads, the election draws to a close today. Millions of Americans will go to the polls and cast their votes for either President Barack Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Some 30 million people have already done that, voting early by absentee ballot, or in early-voting poll booths.
Of course Election Day is only step one. Voters are actually casting ballots for Electors, who then will take the results from each state and meet in December to cast the actual ballots. But those votes are determined by what happens state by state in today’s election. Across the country, the National Congress of American Indians and the Native Vote project will be monitoring ballot access. NCAI has a hotline to call for people who are having voting problems, 1-866-OUR-VOTE or visit Native Vote.
(And if the lines are long: Stay in line. That is one of the lessons from the 2004 election. The polls will stay open as long as people are there.)
For Indian country this has already been an extraordinary election. It’s the first time that both major party candidates took the time to answer questions about their policies that impact Indian country.
Obama told Indian Country Today Media Network: “[With me] as president, you have a voice in the White House. Since the earliest days of my administration, we’ve been working hand in hand between our nations to keep that promise through a comprehensive strategy to help meet the challenges facing Native American communities.”
For his part, Romney also talked about what kind of president he would be for Indian country. “Americans Indians truly embody the American spirit of entrepreneurship, hard work and self-reliance. It is this spirit that will help our country return to economic prosperity,” Romney wrote. “I acknowledge and appreciate this spirit and will support tribes in their efforts to create and expand their economic opportunities. As president, I will be committed to providing tribes a seat at the table so that we can work together to get our economy back on track. I value the tribes’ input, and my administration will work to foster a culture of collaboration and respect.”
The arguments have been made (although Romney is still campaigning today) and now it’s up the voters. One of Obama’s last public events was last night on Monday Night Football. He’ll be in Chicago tonight, while Romney’s rally will be in Boston.
Soon the talk will shift from polls and who’s winning to the difficult task of governing. What happens today is significant in that regard because there is a clear philosophical difference about the role of government, health care, how the economy works, and U.S. foreign policy.
One way to see that difference is to look through the dueling op-eds from Democrats and Republicans on Indian issues.
Rep. Tom Cole wrote, for example, in Indian Country Today Media Network, that the “fears stoked by the House Natural Resources Committee Minority regarding the effects of the Ryan budget simply do not match the reality of the funding actually allocated by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior and Environment on which I serve. The House majority has already been operating under the Ryan budget for two fiscal years, and in each of those years the funds appropriated for Indian country have surpassed both the dollars authorized under the budget framework and the amount requested by President Obama.”
That’s true if you look at the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs budget. But the story is more complicated, and again shows the difference, when you look at all of the numbers. Much of the growth in the Indian Health Service funding has been through third-party billing such as Medicaid. This part of the budget is supposed to be automatic, if a person is eligible, the money is there. But each state sets Medicaid policy. And the Ryan budget would turn even more authority over to states. Thus the “fears” that are raised do match the rhetoric of the campaign. They are real concerns. A clear philosophical difference.
Another concern raised by many in Indian country is over energy production. There are concerns from tribes in the Pacific Northwest about water quality and salmon. More concerns from tribes whose water or land is at risk from the Keystone XL Pipeline.
But all of that will be on hold until the ballots are counted.
Tonight we will be live tweeting results, follow @IndianCountry on Twitter or look for the #ICTMNVote hashtag. We’ll be posting results live and engaging with people all across Indian country.
What’s the first thing to watch tonight: Start with New Hampshire. If Romney wins there, he’s still in the game. If not, well, it will be an uphill climb.
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.