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NCAI: Problems at the polls?

WASHINGTON – As the 2008 presidential race headed into its final stretch, the National Congress of American Indians has partnered with dozens of justice, community and media groups to protect the integrity of every Indian vote across the country.

The NCAI’s 2008 Native Vote Campaign is part of the massive Election Protection effort, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, MSNBC, and groups representing Latinos, Asians, Hispanics, and the homeless, among others.

In an action alert issued the day before the Nov. 4 elections, Native Vote urged voters to call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if they encounter any problems at the polls. The Native Vote Campaign is hooked into the Election Protection network and has phone banks of attorneys on hand and armies of trained volunteers at polling places to offer help with voting rights and the issues that are specific to Indian country. Native voters are urged to call the hotline if they run into any of the following problems:

• You are turned away from the polls

• The polling place does not open on time

• The polling place is closing early

• You are denied Native language assistance or the helper of your choice for any reason

• There are not enough ballots

• You are told you have to come back later to vote

• Your vote was challenged and you don’t know why

• Your tribal ID was not accepted for identification.

Native Americans could sway not only the presidential election result but also many congressional and gubernatorial seats in several swing states, NCAI Executive Direct Jacqueline Johnson Pata said on Monday.

“Over the last year, the presidential candidates have paid particular attention to Native American voters and tribal needs in hopes to gain support, and now the day has come for Native voters to engage in democracy and do their civic duty,” she said. “I have no doubt that Native voters will flood to the polls in record numbers tomorrow. We’re anticipating a strong Native turnout.”

Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and North Dakota have been targeted by Native Vote as close presidential races. To illustrate just how crucial each Native vote is, Native Vote provided the following examples:

• Colorado: 66,707 Native voting age population is 2 percent of total population. In 2004, Sen. Ken Salazar won his seat by 100,520 votes

• Montana: 57,598 Native voting age population is 6 percent of total population. In 2004, Sen. Jon Tester won his seat by 3,562 votes

• Nevada: 39,329 Native voting age population is 2 percent of total population. In 2004 , President Bush won the state by 21,500 votes

• New Mexico: 140,401 Native voting age population is 11 percent of total population. In 2004, President Bush won the state by a 5,988 vote margin.

• North Dakota: 24,021 Native voting age population is 6 percent of total population. In 2000, Gov. John Hoeven won the state by 29,111 votes.

“Our Native Vote team is working diligently with our state leaders and community organizers to make sure young people and elders alike make it to the polls tomorrow,” Johnson Pata said. “We are also anticipating some minor problems with Natives casting their vote tomorrow.”

Some problems have already been encountered in early voting states, said Heath Dawn Thompson, NCAI’s director of Governmental Affairs.

“We’ve heard the same problems that other people have heard. We just saw in Montana a couple of weeks ago where the Republicans had contested a number of precincts with around 6,000 voter registrations for their addresses. And, of course, three or four of those counties were primarily in Indian country so Indian voters could have been disenfranchised,” Thompson said.

But the NCAI was able to work quickly with state officials to fix the problem, She said.

Thompson said Native Vote felt confident that mechanisms are in place to address any problem that arises. The communications systems in place can dispatch on-the-ground monitors to the polling places to help address the problems.
Thompson offered some advice to Native voters: Know what identification is required before you go to the polls. Expect long lines. Be patient. Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you run into any problems or visit Native Vote.

And don’t give up.

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