Voter suppression targets indigenous voters Here are some of the groups that are making a difference
BY pedro graterol
As we conclude the ending of the election season, it’s important to revisit one of the most important stories regarding elections in the United States: voter suppression. Over the last few years, there has been a sharp increase in political attempts to limit people’s ability to cast their votes. These have taken the shape of Voter ID laws and redistricting in ways that favor political parties, which is often called gerrymandering. These measures affect voters from communities of color, especially Native Americans. However, there are organizations trying to make a difference and ensure people’s rights are respected.
On October 13th, Ethnic Media Services hosted a press conference where representatives of different activist and research organizations showcased the impact of these voter suppression measures in their state, with an emphasis on the Native American vote. For instance, Derrick Beetso, director of the Indian Gaming and Self Governance program at Arizona State University mentioned that, last year, the Arizona legislature redrew Arizona’s second congressional district, excluding Hispanic voters in Tucson and replacing them with voters in Yavapai that have had a somewhat hostile relationship with Native American tribes. The area did not see any population changes that would require redistricting, so Beetso argued that this move was done because of “political purposes”. The program has been focusing its efforts on election security and voter protection to ensure that Native voters have their voices heard. In North Dakota, organizations like North Dakota Native Voice have been working to mobilize the Native population and contact voters in rural communities, reaching an approximate turnout of 50% in the 2018 election, according to Nicole Donaghy, Executive Director of North Dakota Native Voice. For this election, they are using digital apps to incentivize people to vote and planned to have multiple watchers to prevent hostilities toward Native voters.
Alaska was also present and proved to have an interesting and successful redistricting story. Nicole Borromeo, Executive Vice President of the Alaska Federation of Natives was involved in the process and considered it to be one of the “fairest and most transparent processes we have had as a state”. She was one of five members of the state redistricting board. In this iteration of the process, the board included two native members and had to overcome multiple pandemic-related challenges. When the census data arrived, they were able to create the three constitutionally-required maps and participated in what Borromeo referred to as an “aggressive public hearing campaign” that included the rural areas of the state and allowed for public testimonies.
Despite multiple efforts to make the most accurate and non-partisan map, the process was not without issues. One of the members was caught on the record wanting to actively combine South Muldoon and Eagle River in order to amplify the legislative representation of the conservative Anchorage suburb at the expense of South Muldoon, a community whose inhabitants are predominantly BIPOC. This represented a case of gerrymandering, which was corroborated by the trial court and upheld by the state Supreme Court after an appeal. The decision is one of the first first case laws in the country establishing gerrymandering is unconstitutional at the state level. Further controversies continued after three board members decided to merge Eagle River with Girdwood, another progressive district, still furthering Eagle River’s legislative advantage, but after additional legal challenges, a non-partisan map was approved and implemented. Large complex problems are solved with individuals and organizations slowly tackling each dimension of the issues. This is the case with voter suppression and the work that these organizations are doing, especially in our state, and is a reason to be hopeful for the future.
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