ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A tribal newspaper in Arizona is publishing a detailed voter guide for the first time ever. A New Mexico pueblo is sending kindergartners home with get-out-the-vote buttons for their parents. Tribes in Wisconsin are reaching out to young adults with a Rock the Vote event.
Native American communities nationwide are working hard to tap about 3 million Native American voters, hoping to turn around low voter participation that has persisted in Indian Country for decades. The push is being headed by the National Congress of American Indians, the largest group representing Native Americans, which calls low turnout a "civic emergency" — fueled by everything from language barriers and vast distances between polling places to high unemployment and poverty.
"As we look at why our vote is so important, our political activism really is aimed at making sure that we can address critical concerns in our communities," said NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson Pata.
The NCAI and its partners are focusing on 18 states with high Indian populations, and their efforts are not without challenge. The NCAI said in a recent report that voter ID laws could negatively affect participation this year in Native American and Alaska Native communities in 10 states — Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington.