Record year? Candidates, yes. Native voters are still the question mark

Andria Tupola at a recent event in Virginia is the GOP candidate for governor of Hawaii. She is Native Hawaiian and says her campaign wants to empower people. From left: Left to right: Leslie Sanchez, Joanne Hansen, Andria Tupola, Vicki Vasques, and Tracy Key (Photo by Mark Trahant)

Every four years almost a half a million Native youth turn 18 and are eligible to vote

There is one month to go before votes are counted in the 2018 election cycle. But even before that: Today is the deadline to register to vote in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and a dozen other states. And, at the same time, early voting has begun in many states across the country.

This is a record year for the number of Native Americans running for office, and now the question is will it also be a record year for the number of Native Americans voting? The Millennial generation is now the largest pool of voters. But will they vote? How about Native youth?

Here are the numbers: Two years ago Millennials and Generation Xers cast 69.6 million votes, a slight majority of the 137.5 million total votes cast, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. At the same time Boomers and older voters represented fewer than half of all votes for the first time in decades. The shift has occurred as Millennials accounted for a growing share of the electorate and as those in the Silent and Greatest generations aged and died.

Native youth are Indian Country’s potential largest bloc too. According to NativeVote.org those under the age of 25 are 42 percent of the total American Indian and Alaska Native population. And every four years, almost half a million Native young people turn 18 and become eligible to vote.

And there is incentive in 2018: There are more Native candidates running for nearly every elected office; ten candidates for Congress; a dozen for state offices such as governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, or corporation commission. And nearly ninety candidates are running for state legislatures (Indian Country Today’s national list of Native candidates as Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and independents. This is the first election where there are more Native women than men running for every office except Congress.

Andria Tupola, Native Hawaiian, is running for governor of Hawaii as a Republican. She said too many people feel “voiceless and so there's a lot of concerns that have gone unheard for decades.” That means changing how politics works, helping people see that the power of change is within them. “My message is about empowerment and it's about ownership and that we don't need to necessarily ask permission to own our communities. We need to just take responsibility, step up, empower ourselves to be a part of the solution and ask ourselves what part we play in the solution and then move forward.”

Indeed that message of empowerment -- a call to have a voice in the outcome -- is a consistent thread from Native candidates across the country. In a lot of ways Tupola and Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, are opposites. Jordan is the Democratic candidate for governor in Idaho (a very conservative state) while Tupola is a Republican in a very liberal state. Yet both messages are more about practical solutions than partisan politics.

She recently spoke to people at the Lewis-State College and, according to the Lewiston Morning Tribune, told them that Idaho ought to have a government “that’s truly representative of the people, a front that says this government belongs to all of us, not just the select few. We’re (offering) a different kind of leadership that is missing in this country. … We’re going to be compassionate, wholly inclusive — where everyone in the state has a seat at the table. Government should work for us, not against us.”

One of the success stories in Indian Country is Native Americans winning office as state legislators. The Native American rate of representation in state legislatures still trails that of the nation’s overall population of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. But at one percent that’s more than half of the 1.7 percent that make up the Native American population in the United States. Compare that to Congress, where only two elected Native Americans equal only 0.33 percent.

This year there are 88 candidates running for state legislatures. In Arizona, there are three Native women running for the state Senate, incumbent Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, Navajo; former Rep. Victoria Steele, Seneca; and, Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, Pascua Yaqui.

Andi Clifford is running for the Wyoming House. (Photo via Facebook.)

Back to the list. Andi Clifford, Northern Arapaho, is the only Native candidate running for office in Wyoming. She’s running for the House from District 33 which includes the Wind River Reservation. Voters have been able to cast early ballots in that state since the end of September. Earlier this week she posted on Facebook: “Some signs went up today: Fort Washakie, Ethete and Mill Creek! Hohou Don! Arapahoe, Beaver Creek, Hudson, Crowheart, Kinnear and Atlantic City will be next! However, a sister reminds me, ‘Signs don’t vote, people do!’”

Another twist this election: More Native candidates are on the same ballot. In Minnesota, for example, either Democrat Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation, or Republican Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation, will be the next lieutenant governor. Alaska voters can pick between Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot, Independent, and Debra Call, a Democrat, and Kevin Meyer, the Republican. Mallott is Tlingit and Call is Dena'ina. And in Oklahoma, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican, faces Democratic challenger Jason Nichols. Both are Cherokee citizens.

In fact, the two states with the most candidates are Oklahoma with 16 running for a variety of offices and Montana, 14 all for the legislature.

On Indigenous People’s Day, Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee, and a candidate for the corporation commission, told television station KFDX that "It is really important for indigenous people to feel like their heritage is being celebrated like they can be proud of who they are and like its okay to be an indigenous person." And that includes voting.

Candidates for Congress

Kansas: Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, D

Maine: Henry John Bear, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Green

Minnesota: Ray "Skip”Sandman, Leech Lake Ojibwe, Ind

New Mexico: Debra Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D

New Mexico: Yvette Herrell, Cherokee Nation, R

Oklahoma: Tom Cole, Chickasaw.R

Oklahoma: Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee Nation, R

Oklahoma: Jason Nichols. Cherokee Nation, D

Utah: James Singer, Navajo, D

Washington: Dino Rossi, Tlingit, R

Candidates for statewide offices

New Mexico: Secretary of State, Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw R

South Dakota: Secretary of Stat. Alexandra Frederick, Lakota D

South Dakota: Public Utilities Commission, Wayne Frederick, Rosebud D

Alaska: Lt. Gov. Debra Call, Dena’ina D

Alaska: Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott Tlingit Ind

Minnesota: Lt. Governor Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake R

Minnesota: Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation D

Oklahoma: Lt. Governor Anastasia Pittman, Seminole D

Hawaii: Governor Andria Tupola, Native Hawaiian R

Idaho: Governor Paulette Jordan, Coeur d'Alene D

Oklahoma: Governor Kevin Stitt, Cherokee Nation R

Oklahoma: Corporation Commission Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee D​

Roundup of previous election stories:

Indian Country Today, FNX / First Nations Experience, and Native Voice One will have a 5-hour live Election Night program across all of our platforms. The program will start at 6 pm Pacific / 9 Eastern and will feature correspondents posted at candidates' headquarters across the country. Look for hashtags, #NativeVote18 or #NativeElectionNight

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

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