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Third party being ignored

SEATTLE - The Nader/LaDuke question is on everybody's lips nowadays.

"Do you think a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush?" people quietly ask each other on coffee breaks, in car pools and in the halls of offices, schools and tribal council chambers.

"Is a vote for Nader a vote for Bush?"

Good question, especially if you live in Indian country or anywhere else in America. Some American Indians and environmentalists quail at the thought of a Bush administration and the vision of pristine landscapes such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska at the mercy of the oil cartels.

"Can I afford to vote what my conscience demands?" is the silently rephrased question within the hearts of many this election year.

For the estimated 25 percent of American Indians who say they would like to vote for Nader, the issue is even more emotionally conflicted.

Winona LaDuke, vice presidential running mate of Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket admits she has been approached by "some Indian leaders" who have urged her to throw her support - and her Indian country votes - over to Gore.

"They said in return for that, we could probably get some federal judgeships because we have no Indian federal court judges. We could probably even get good appointments and we could probably swing some things in return.

"And I said, 'Why doesn't Al Gore offer these things?'

"There's nothing that has stopped Al Gore from addressing any of the issues that Ralph and I have addressed. But he has chosen not to. He has chosen not to make commitments on environmental promises, on WTO (World Trade Organization). He has not done it.

"Ralph and I have worked very hard to get whatever small percentage points we have. We've had plenty of obstacles: no debates, no money, getting kicked off the playground all the time. And a lot of people are voting for us who never would vote.

"So I say, Al Gore get out there and earn your votes."

Fortunately a closer look at the dynamics of the election and an analysis of the electoral college vote gives some people a reprieve from having to make an impossible choice between conscience and political expediency.

Gore may win or Gore may lose, but, says Nader's political analyst Steve Cobble, most of the states where tribal population is heavy are already lost as far as Gore is concerned. Most of the Rocky Mountain states - Montana, Colorado, Idaho and perhaps Wyoming - are gone to Bush. Gore is out of the running as far as the electoral vote is concerned in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah and South and North Dakota.

"The choice is what can you do with your vote?" Cobble says. "Well, you can cast it and become one of 5 million people that helps Nader get 5 percent. And then the Nader/LaDuke ticket qualifies as a real party."

With the exception of swing states like New Mexico, Oregon and Washington where the outcome is uncertain, Cobble says tribal members can feel free to vote for the Green Party which has a platform that conforms to Native American issues and supplies the only Native American to ever to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate.

In the swing states, some tribal members say they will follow the election returns and vote at the very last minute. If Gore is secure, they admit they'll vote for Nader and LaDuke. If Gore is threatened, they'll cast their vote to his camp.

Cobble agrees it is an untenable situation to have to vote against one's heart just because the "lesser of two evils" gives one the best chance at political and economic survival.

But it doesn't have to be this way. In many European countries all candidates, popular and otherwise, are given coverage and debate time to present their views to the public before the primaries. The candidates winning the most votes then form coalitions with other losing parties as they head into the final election, garnering as many votes as they can. This free election system guarantees a certain amount of representation for just about everybody.

But in America, which is supposed to be a free democracy, this is not possible.

"We would win if people heard what we had to say, that's my feeling about it," says LaDuke. "I'll be honest with you. Each time third party candidates have become more successful in the past 80 years, if you look, they have upped the bar for participation whether it's numbers of people who have signed on petitions to get you on the ballot ... or whether it's things like the debates.

"The debates used to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Now they're sponsored by the Presidential Debate Commission which is a privately underwritten corporation essentially.

And that's wrong. Either you want democracy or you want control by a few. Right now we're getting controlled by a few.

"If you want democracy, open up the dialog."

John McCoy, executive director of governmental affairs for the Tulalip tribes and Democratic candidate for Washington state representative for the 10th Legislative District, agrees the current election process is too restrictive. He says the time has probably come for a three or four party system so people have a choice and their votes can have real meaning.

"At times I get frustrated," he says. "Why do we have to declare ourselves an 'R' or 'D' anyway? Because normally what you're classified is conservative, moderate or a liberal.

"Basically there are a lot of folks out there that are fed up with the two party system. They want a third party."

Tom Keefe, congressional candidate from the 5th District in Washington believes much of the voter apathy across the nation stems from a lack of real choice. The 1996 election was the first time in history that less than half of the registered voters in the United States bothered to exercise their right to vote. Why should they should vote when the only candidates seem cut from the same plastic mold?

If Nader and LaDuke can win at least 5 percent of the vote in this national election, they open the door for the Green Party to be treated as a viable third party in future elections. Paul DeMain, press secretary for LaDuke, said he believes it is possible the party will garner as much as 10 percent of the vote, an impressive figure when looked at in light of the numbers of eligible voters in the country.

"In this election 45 percent of eligible voters are going to get out and vote," says DeMain. "George Bush is going to take, let's say 45 percent, and Al Gore is going to take 43 percent and Ralph Nader is going to take 5, 6, 7 percent and Pat Buchanan is going to take whatever.

"If George Bush is elected on that kind of a formula, he's actually going to represent about 22 percent of the popular potential voters in the country. ... If Nader and LaDuke could get half of the votes of all of the people who didn't vote, we could win."

So, in the final analysis, is a vote for Nader really a vote for Bush after all?

"No," says Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indian Environmental Network, "A vote for Nader is a vote for the Green Party."