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Other Opinions: Educate, then get Native American voters to the polls

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It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that South Dakota's Native Americans ? and the politicians who covet their votes ? are taking a long, hard look at the 2000 census. What it shows is that our Native American population is growing. In particular, we've got a lot of young people ? potential voters ? coming up.

Native Americans are now 8.25 percent of South Dakota's population, third-highest in the nation, behind only Alaska (15.64 percent) and New Mexico (9.54 percent).

Courting such voters is going on all over the country. Politicians are looking at rising populations of blacks and Hispanics. In the next 30 years, it's estimated the blacks will make up 13.1 percent of the country's population and Hispanics almost 19 percent. Asians fall in at 6.6 percent.

But while this chase after untapped voters makes political sense, here's a caution: None of it will make any difference if people don't vote.

Yes, it's true some people don't vote simply because they don't want to. Voter turnout on reservations never has been particularly high, and that's not just because of logistical problems.

But if politicians really want to tap into these voting populations, they've got to first make sure the people will vote. Solutions? A couple:

First, educate. That means not just the process but also rebuilding trust in government.

Second, make it easy. That means not just reasonably located polling places, but also increasing opportunities for absentee voting, early satellite polling places, mail-in and Internet voting, and maybe even telephone voting.

It's great to see new segments of our nation's potential voters receiving increased attention. But let's make sure our focus is in the right place.

Don't just pander. Help them get to the polls, too.

Editor's note: This opinion piece about the effects of the Native American vote on elections appeared late last month in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.