Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
NEW YORK With 141 days remaining until the US presidential election, this week, Dēmos organization released "Ensuring Access to the Ballot for American Indians & Alaska Natives: New Solutions to Strengthen American Democracy."
American Indians and Alaska Natives have the lowest voter participation of any ethnic groups in the United States, according to the 22 page report.
The report cites "manipulation, discrimination and forcible exclusion from the voting process" as reasons why American Indians and Alaska Natives vote at lower rates and have contributed to mistrust of the American democratic system by American Indians and Alaska Natives. "Ensuring Access to the Ballot for American Indians & Alaska Natives" provides an excellent historic overview on why American Indians and Alaska Natives are apathetic when it comes to voting.
Dēmos is a non partisan public policy research and advocacy organization founded in 2000. The report was authored by Tova Wang, a nationally known expert on election reform and political participation. In 2001, she was staff person to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Currently, she serves as Senior Democracy Fellow at Dēmos.
The report points out that several states made it difficult and even denied American Indians their rights to vote up the 1960s and 1970s. For instance South Dakota legally denied American Indians the right to vote until 1975 by claiming people living in "unorganized counties" were not eligible to vote. The three unorganized counties, according to South Dakota officials, were Todd, Shannon and Washabaugh counties. All three have overwhelming American Indian populations.
“Ongoing mistrust by American Indians and Alaska Natives of federal and state government is a theme that grassroots organizers and other researchers cite as a major factor in whether American Indians and Alaska Natives participate in state and federal elections,”
the report states.
While the voting participation of American Indians and Alaska Natives has been lower than other racial and ethnic groups historically, there is evidence the trend may be changing for the better.
During the past two presidential election cycles, the National Congress of American Indians, NCAI. has taken the voting participation on as a means to get American Indians engaged in the political system. In 2004, the National Congress of American Indians introduced Native Vote 2004, which led to significant increases in voter turnout by Native people. It continued four years later with its Native Vote 2008 initiative. Since 2004, some tribal communities saw increases of 50 percent to 150 percent in turnout.
While there have been these significant increases, the National Congress of American Indians is not willing to rest on its laurels. It now is in the midst of its Native Vote 2012 initiative, which hosts webinars and brings awareness at its national conferences.
"In 2008 over 1 million eligible Native voters were unregistered. I think that Indian Country should consider this a civic emergency," National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel stated in his opening speech at the organization's mid year conference in Lincoln, Nebraska on Monday morning.
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posted June 20, 2012 5:40 pm edt