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Group Aims to Boost Native American Turnout After MT Primary

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Thursday, June 23, 2022   

A Native American organization is hoping to increase voter numbers after low turnout during the Montana primary this month.

Keaton Sunchild, political director for Western Native Voice, said numbers were low even for a midterm primary, at 21 % of Native American precincts in Montana.

He acknowledged new election laws likely affected numbers, especially an end to same-day voter registration. Sunchild noted same-day sign-ups are used frequently by Native Americans who often live in rural areas and only make one trip to the polls.

"Certainly disappointed with how low the turnout was originally, but we also recognize that there were some new barriers put in place, some confusion with the laws and various lawsuits," Sunchild explained. "As well as turnout is usually lower, as we all know, in midterm elections."

Restrictive election laws were passed by Montana legislators in 2021, but an injunction had been in place blocking those laws, including an end to same-day voter registration. However, the state Supreme Court overturned the injunction in May, allowing the restrictive laws to go into place before the primary. A trial is expected on the laws later this summer.

Sunchild emphasized there are important reasons to vote in the midterm.

"The presidential races seem to get all the glitz and glamour of elections and of voters' time," Sunchild pointed out. "But on a day-to-day level, what you're voting for in a midterm affects your life more."

Western Native Voice is setting up voting kiosks on reservations across the state to ensure people are registered before Election Day.

Sunchild added the organization is looking at the data and determining where their work will be most impactful. For instance, the Rocky Boy reservation precinct had the lowest turnout among tribes in the primary, at 7%.

"Doing things proactively rather than reacting is going to be key these next few months," Sunchild stressed. "That's kind of what we're trying to focus on."

Disclosure: Western Native Voice contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Civic Engagement, Education, Native American Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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