Native Vote hopes to consolidate gains

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WASHINGTON – Native Vote was a project of the National Congress of American Indians prior to the 2004 presidential election year, but its intensive mobilization in that year helped to bring out an unprecedented number of Native voters. According to NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson, the initiative is hitting its stride in the current midterm election year, consolidating gains in registered voters from Native communities and improving Native access to the polling booths.

Presidential election years tend to be more glamorous and more engaging, Johnson agreed. But in reference to actual voting, she added, “Indian country makes more difference when the races are more local.” This year fits that bill, with ballots being cast for 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 in the Senate. In addition, 36 governorships are up for grabs.

Native Vote has fielded a huge number of Native-community requests for campaign buttons and posters, as well as candidate forums, Johnson said. In her own Tlingit Haida community in Alaska, where a gubernatorial race is ongoing, a recent candidate forum brought an enormous turnout and keen interest.

The purposes of Native Vote are to educate candidates on Native-specific issues, get Native voters to the polls, and promote voter protection from any form of intimidation at the polls. Citizens who are turned away from the voting booth for lack of proper identification may be discouraged from voting at all rather than return with the required forms, Johnson explained.

A concern that has surfaced nationally, mostly among Democrats, is the alleged manipulability of the voting machines many states have installed. Johnson said the core problem is the machines’ lack of a tracking system. “We’ve been very engaged with the wider civil rights community on this issue.”

The Friday following the Nov. 7 election, NCAI will facilitate an “all-Indian country teleconference,” Johnson said. Among the agenda items will be a post-election analysis and a look ahead at the legislative landscape in Congress.

The Native Vote Web site can be accessed at www.nativevote.org, or via the link at www.ncai.org.