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Native Voter Advocates in ND Look to Reestablish Momentum

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The group North Dakota Native Vote, established in 2018, said the pandemic affected momentum in reaching Native voters this year. But it remains optimistic about making more strides in future elections. (ND Native Vote)
The group North Dakota Native Vote, established in 2018, said the pandemic affected momentum in reaching Native voters this year. But it remains optimistic about making more strides in future elections. (ND Native Vote)
November 27, 2020

MANDAN, N.D. -- When it came to pushing voter turnout among North Dakota Native Americans, 2020 was a tough year.

Because of the pandemic, the state didn't see as much activity in tribal areas as in other parts of the country. But one group said connections still were made, and has its eyes on future elections.

Going into 2020, North Dakota Native Vote wanted to build on the higher turnout among Native populations the state saw in 2018. Early estimates indicate the number will be lower.

Nicole Donaghy, executive director of the group, said because of the adaptability of their field staff, their momentum isn't lost forever.

"We've made those connections and we were reinforcing our brand: getting North Dakota Native Vote out there again," Donaghy explained. "And so people are certainly familiar with us, and that can only help."

Amid the election's final stages, COVID cases were spiking in North Dakota. The group did virtual training for canvassers on reservations to still reach voters.

Donaghy said looking forward, they'll do more planning so they can deploy a variety of strategies based on the circumstances.

The energy from Native voters in recent years is seen as important because of the state's voter ID requirements, which advocates say disenfranchises their people.

A contributor to not losing that momentum is the Sacred Pipe Resource Center in Mandan.

Cheryl Kary, executive director for the Center, said thanks to extra funding, they deployed field staff for door-to-door canvassing when conditions allowed.

For future elections, she stressed a goal is to raise more awareness about obtaining a necessary ID for voting.

"We do have a very mobile population," Kary observed. "So, it's not uncommon for someone to have two, three, four addresses a year. And so, trying to keep up and getting information out there, where they can get their ID's and how they can update them and things like that."

Kary emphasized the coalition also hopes to convince election authorities to hire more Native Americans to work at polling locations. She said that can help Indigenous voters feel less intimidated.

Donaghy added no matter the office, recruitment of candidates is another important part of getting the momentum back on track.

"We encourage people to run for their school boards, or to run for the county commission," Donaghy remarked. "There's a lot of challenges because it's not a common thing, and a lot of our people don't feel that they belong in these spaces but they certainly do."

At the state level, three Native women ran for legislative seats, but fell short. However, Donaghy sees more Indigenous women seeking office as they've shown a greater interest.

At the national level, a record number of Native American women were elected to Congress this year.

Disclosure: North Dakota Native Vote contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Native American Issues, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND