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What Worked, What Needs Work, and Why Be Optimistic About Native Vote

The votes are still being tallied from Election Day but let’s take a look at what worked, what didn’t work and some things that created optimism.

This was a tough election. Those who are against the Affordable Care Act, don’t believe in global warming, and think that President Obama is the cause of all our problems swept into office. We won’t know the final tally for a month or so, but the Republicans picked up at least seven Senate seats, added to their majority in the House and did well in state houses.

But this is how this election was supposed to be. This is how the sixth year of a presidency looks (even for the now sainted Ronald Reagan). The whole premise of 2014 was to get out enough voters together so that the country would not have to take another step backwards. So we didn't beat history.

Worse: We let a determined group of voters chart the next two years. These were voters that were older, more white, and more determined to reverse Obama.

The NBC Exit Poll showed how different this electorate was: Young people voted in smaller numbers than 2012. And, get this, even less than 2010. NBC said: “In today’s midterms, 37 percent of voters are over the age of 60 but only 12 percent are under 30 years old. This 25 point difference is larger than the 16 to 20 point age gap seen in the last three midterms.”

But that same exit poll has this nugget about “a growing perception that the U.S. economic system is unfair. Sixty-three percent of voters said they believe that it generally favors the wealthy, compared to 32 percent who say it is fair to most Americans.”

That is important because it is a notion that can be used to build a policy argument, even in this political climate. (More about policy from me later this week.)

I’ll look more closely at the Native vote in the next few days, but I suspect that turnout was light there too. Cecilia FireThunder posted on my Facebook page saying, “I kinda looked at the numbers and we in Shannon and Bennett Counties did not do as well as we could have. Same thing happened with Tom Daschle, the organizers did not listen to us old timers on what they needed to do differently on the rez. Dems need to accept if they want our support in all things Democrat they have to listen to what works and its why we have to take part, not the candidates or single issues. Lets learn from these glitches and plan ahead every year all year round on Indian reservations in states with large NDN populations like SD where we have 9 reservations and Pine Ridge alone has at least 30,000 plus.”

So what did work? What should we celebrate this morning in Indian country? Actually there are some bright spots.

There seemed to be enough Navajo voters turning out (even with the confusion on the tribal ballot) to return a Democrat, Ann Kirkpatrick, to Congress in Arizona.

In conservative Idaho a member of the Couer d’Alene Tribe, Paulette Jordan won a state Legislative seat. This was not her first try (a good message in itself) and she represents that millennial voice that’s so needed in politics.

We don’t have final numbers from Alaska yet, but that still could be good news too. The fusion candidacy of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott are leading and with some rural votes still to be counted, that’s a favorable sign. Mallott is Tlingit from the village of Yakutat. Just think about this in terms of Native vote. Should Mallott be Alaska’s Lt. Governor — he will be in charge of elections.

I also think it’s a good thing that more women won last night. This is the first time in history that more than 100 women are serving in the Congress at the same time. (That’s less than one in five … so a long way to go.) But in a country where more than half the population is female, this is an essential step toward better government. I hope there is a strong, bipartisan caucus that starts to reframe some of the conversations on the Hill. If you think back to the budget debate a few years ago that’s exactly what happened, but with a smaller group of women.

And finally I think it’s significant that Montana rejected an anti-voting measure. By a wide margin, voters said “no” to an initiative that would have eliminated same-day registration. This tells me that even in a pretty red state, even in a narrow pool of voters, there is a rejection of keeping people away from the polls. That is excellent news.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.