North Dakota primary: 3 Native women ‘using their voices to bring change’

Tracey Wilkie, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. (Photo by Karianna Photography)

Aliyah Chavez

Legislative candidates Thomasina Mandan, Tracey Wilkie and Lisa Finley-DeVille, all Democrats, will advance to the general election

Aliyah Chavez

Indian Country Today

Three Native women running for the North Dakota state Legislature will advance to the November election. 

All three are Democrats: Thomasina Mandan, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, and Tracey Wilkie, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, are running for state House seats. For state Senate, Lisa Finley-DeVille, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary election.

“This is all a very powerful feeling,” Wilkie told Indian Country Today on Election Day. “Knowing that there are two other Native women besides myself who are using their voices to bring change is very empowering.”

All three candidates will face incumbents in November. In North Dakota, two Assembly candidates from each party advance to the general election in each district, while one advances in the Senate. 

In 2018, Ruth Buffalo, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, was the only Native woman seeking a seat in the North Dakota House. When she was elected, Buffalo became the first Native Democratic woman to serve in the state’s Legislature.

Ruth Buffalo
(Photo: Office of Representative Ruth Buffalo)

North Dakota Republicans control both houses of the Legislature. They have 37 Senate seats to Democrats' 10, and 79 House seats to Democrats' 15.

North Dakota’s primary marked the first statewide election since two tribes earlier this year reached a landmark agreement with the state over voter identification requirements. However, this election was unusual in that all 53 counties in the state chose to avoid in-person voting due to the coronavirus.

(Related: Ruth Buffalo: "We tripled ... Native American women running' for North Dakota Legislature)

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Lisa Finley-Deville, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Finley-Deville)

In Georgia on Tuesday, voters endured heat, pouring rain and waits as long as five hours to cast ballots in that state's primary, demonstrating a fierce desire to participate in the democratic process while raising questions about the emerging battleground state’s ability to manage elections in November when the White House is at stake.

“It’s really disheartening to see a line like this in an area with predominantly black residents,” said Benaiah Shaw, a 25-year-old African American, as he cast a ballot in Atlanta.

A confluence of events disrupted primary elections for president, U.S. Senate and dozens of other contests. 

There were problems with Georgia’s new voting machines, which combine touchscreens with scanned paper ballots. The polls were staffed by fewer workers because of coronavirus concerns. 

A reduced workforce contributed to officials consolidating polling places, which disproportionately affected neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color. Long lines were also reported in whiter suburban areas. 

Some voters said they requested mail-in ballots that never arrived, forcing them to go to polling places and adding to the lines. 

Other states holding primaries Tuesday were Nevada, South Carolina and West Virginia.

In Nevada, Tuesday’s primary marked the first major election since the establishment of the Native American Caucus in the state’s Democratic Party.

“The caucus was put together so that we, as tribal people, would have the opportunity to have a seat on the party’s executive board, which has never happened before,” said caucus chair Brian Melendez of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Melendez says a goal of the caucus, established shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, is to recruit more Native candidates to run for office.

The caucus also hopes to increase voter turnout in the state’s 27 federally recognized tribes, many of which are located in rural areas of the state. Melendez says these Native voters are important because they, “could more than likely swing the electorate in all of the rural counties.”

Meanwhile, at least two tribal primaries were taking place Tuesday, on the White Earth Nation in Minnesota and the Bishop Paiute Tribe in California.

Also in North Dakota, Brooke LeBeau, Cheyenne River, was running for a school board seat in Bismarck. She lost her school board election Tuesday night. 

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at AChavez@IndianCountryToday.com

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If you know of any other Native candidates running for office, let us know by contacting Aliyah Chavez, @aliyahjchavez

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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