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ND Tribal Advocates Say Numbers Don't Lie in Voting Barriers


Monday, October 31, 2022   

Native Americans have long faced barriers when it comes to voting, and a new North Dakota data project adds another layer to the arguments for access that tribal advocates have been making.

The group North Dakota Native Vote teamed up with Joseph Robertson PhD - chief data scientist with the native-oriented company Mato Ohitika Analytics - on the initiative.

The resulting interactive web feature factors in a range of sources, including Census figures, recent gas prices and available voting infrastructure.

Robertson said they were able to estimate the costs and travel times for someone from certain tribal areas just to cast a ballot. He said the findings reveal real obstacles.

"We did a quick analysis through the Porcupine community on Standing Rock," said Robertson. "And that trip to get to the post office or the courthouse in Fort Yates is about 60 miles roundtrip."

When factoring in summer gas prices, the cost for that voting trip is more than $1,000 per-100 people. There's added costs if they're mailing in their ballot or using a PO box.

Robertson said that's not easy for Natives who lack the resources, or the time to get to these far-off destinations before they close for the day.

North Dakota Native Vote's executive director Nicole Donaghy said they've been able to engage with some state agencies about voting access, but hopes the data turns more heads.

"Access to the ballot is not equitable for people living on reservations," said Donaghy. "Now, that also could apply to communities that are not on a reservation that are very rural. And so, I think that the more knowledge that our officials have the better."

Donaghy said the partnership brings data and important social matters together in a very productive way.

"We're trying to bridge data science with culture and kinship and years of history that have impacted our people, and continue to impact us today," said Donaghy, "through voting issues and socioeconomic issues in our communities."

To overcome some of these barriers, her group has been distributing voting kits that include an absentee ballot to save a number of steps for each recipient.

Disclosure: North Dakota Native Vote contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Livable Wages/Working Families, Native American Issues, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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