A friend is calling: 'Don't forget to vote' #NativeVote18

Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community publishes a voter guide to educate tribal citizens about candidates and issues

The 2018 midterm election has already moved beyond campaign slogans and planning. Now it’s all about getting out the vote.

Angela Willeford works with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona. She’s gearing up for the community's voter turnout drive that includes a phone bank with a list of registered tribal voters. When the call comes in people hear, “don’t forget to vote,” the voice on the other end of the line is often a friend or relative. “It’s good to hear from someone you know,” she said.

Willeford spoke at a National Congress of American Indians workshop on Native Vote. She said early phone calls are important because they can identify problems with registration when there is still time to make a correction. For example in Arizona a voter’s ID, tribal or state, must exactly match the voter registration roll.

The community also publishes a community voter guide and educates tribal citizens about the importance of showing up and voting.

She said she laughs when she hears “I’m not into politics.” And responds. “That’s funny because politics is into you.”

'We need you to vote' is a consistent message from the tribe. And a reminder that it wasn’t that long ago that tribal citizens were not allowed to vote in Arizona. Before 1965 tribal citizens were blocked from voting under state law.

She said the community makes the voting process fun, including a get out the vote party and an election night watch party.

Across the country we already know a few things about the 2018 midterm election: Turnout will be higher than normal and a lot of people are voting early.

Early voting has become popular with 37 states offering some form of ballot access before Election Day.

“Usage of early voting has recently surged among traditionally underrepresented voters,” reports Demos. “The 2008 election marked a dramatic increase in early in-person voting among African American and Latino voters. And in Florida, where approximately 50 percent of ballots were cast early in 2012, African-American usage of early in-person voting has exceeded White usage in four of the five most recent federal elections. Research suggests that turnout increases are maximized when early voting is combined with Same Day Registration.”

However as a best practice, early voting often fails to include Indian Country. According to the Native Vote project, “compared to other voters, many Native people have less access to early voting and voter registration.”

And in states where there is permanent absentee ballots, such as Arizona, sometimes elders are placed on that list only to be told they cannot vote when they show up at the polls because their ballot has already been mailed. (One of the problems that can be fixed by programs such as the one at Salt River.)

So what do we know about the 2018 midterms? Some 5 million people have already voted.

In some states, such as New Mexico, there is even information about who’s voting by party. According to the Secretary of State, 135,877 people have cast ballots, some 73,794 Democrats have voted and 45,606 Republicans. In the Albuquerque area, where Deb Haaland is a candidate for Congress, nearly 28,000 Democrats have voted and almost 15,000 Republicans. (A significant number of voters in New Mexico are listed as “decline to state” or independent, 5,837 ballots have been recorded from that group.)

Kansas and Oklahoma will begin early voting next week.

Indian Country Today will stream a live coast-to-coast newscast on election day partnering with FNX / First Nations Experience and Native Voice One. The newscast will begin at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Hashtag: #NativeElectionNight

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports

The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

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