Native American groups help hundreds of Oklahomans register to vote

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After months of working to increase voter turnout for Native Americans, Oklahoma tribal leaders and voting rights groups will receive their first progress report on Tuesday. The primary elections will also provide a roadmap on how far they have to go before November.

When is the primary election? Everything you need to know about voting in Oklahoma

Lack of transportation and internet access, especially in rural Oklahoma, are two of the biggest obstacles they are working to overcome to ensure Native Americans have more of a say in the plan. Politics. Reverend David Wilson, who heads the nonpartisan organization Rock the Native Vote, said another hurdle is explaining the impact of statewide elections on the daily lives of tribal citizens.

But that connection has become clearer since McGirt v. Oklahoma, he said. Many people cite the landmark decision that upheld the Muscogee reservation as a reason to register to vote. Disagreements over this have driven a wedge between state and tribal relations. Two prominent critics, Governor Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O’Connor, both won re-election. Voters in Oklahoma will also hold seats in the US Congress and the Statehouse.

How do you vote in Oklahoma? Tribal leaders launch website to explain registration steps

Rock the Native Vote has so far helped over 500 people register to vote. Event organizers are now calling to request voter registration tables at their events, Wilson said, rather than the other way around. The group held eight separate enrollment drives on June 2 to commemorate the day in 1924 when all Native Americans were granted US citizenship.

“We feel we’re gaining momentum and we’re excited about that,” Wilson said.

Oklahoma’s Native American population is among the largest in the United States

Low voter turnout is a statewide problem. It is also a problem for many Native American communities.

One in three Native American adults were not registered to vote in 2012, according to the National Congress of American Indians. This represented 1.2 million potential voters.

In Oklahoma, Native Americans make up a larger share of the state’s population than any other state except Alaska. Sixteen percent of Oklahoma’s 3.9 million people identified as Native American in the 2020 census. In some counties, like Adair within the Cherokee Nation, the share is as high as 56%.

Rock the Native Vote is hosting a tent at the Price Alliance festivities in Scissortail Park for entourage attendees to register to vote and encourage political participation in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

Tribal leaders cite these numbers as an example of the political voice Native Americans can have in elections. The important thing is to work together, Muscogee Nation Chief David Hill said last week at a United Indian Nations meeting in Oklahoma.

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The group, which represents several tribes and their citizens, plans to launch a voting campaign called “Warrior Up to Vote”.

“It’s a very important election this year,” said Hill, who is the group’s secretary.

Election Day turnout is also a focus of Vote Your Values, a coalition that began in March and now includes 22 Oklahoma-based tribal nations. It promotes nonpartisan social media ads that feature Oklahomans, often from rural parts of the state, explaining why they vote.

Several tribal nations also shared Vote Your Values ​​ads and posts on their own social media pages.

“We are confident that informed and engaged communities will drive positive outcomes in our elections,” Matthew Morgan, a spokesperson, said in a written statement.

Who are Oklahoma’s political candidates with tribal support?

Although voter registration efforts are non-partisan, some tribal leaders and nations are making their views known separately.

For example, Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. wrote to the more than 400,000 citizens of his tribe in May and encouraged them to vote for the candidates’ records on working with tribal nations and recognizing their sovereign rights. “If elected to these powerful offices, these anti-tribal sovereignty politicians could inflict generational damage on tribes,” he wrote.

Hoskin described the gubernatorial primaries and the three congressional Republican primaries as particularly critical. McGirt v. Oklahoma has become a central issue in every race.

After the Supreme Court ruled in July 2020 that the Muscogee reservation still existed, lower courts have since extended the ruling to five other reservations.  The state does not have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes involving Native Americans within reservation boundaries.

Stitt is the favorite to win his Republican primary race for the gova challengers against Joel Kintsel, who leads the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the congressional level, incumbent Sen. James Lankford faces Jackson Lahmeyer, a pastor from Tulsa, in his Republican primary. Oklahoma’s second Senate seat will be vacated by incumbent Senator Jim Inhofe. A crowded list of GOP candidates are hoping to replace him, including U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin, Chickasaw Community Bank CEO TW Shannon, State Senator Nathan Dahm, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the former chief of staff of Inhofe Luke Holland.

Another filled Republican field is vying to represent Oklahoma’s 2nd District in the U.S. House, something Mullin has done since 2013. The district covers parts of eastern and southern Oklahoma, including included much of the Cherokee Nation.

By the numbers: The GOP has a double-digit registration advantage in all congressional districts

Campaign finance records show the Cherokee Nation donated $100,000 to Defend Oklahoma Values, a super PAC running ads supporting Lankford. He donated $30,000 to support Mullin, who is Cherokee.

Tribal nations also contribute to state races. Joy Hofmeister, who is expected to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary, said she received the maximum contribution from the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Citizen Potawatomi and Osage nations. These last three also donated the same amount – $2,900 each – to Kintsel.

Truth for Oklahoma PAC, a new political action committee that shares an address with the Choctaw Nation headquarters, also created ads supporting Kintsel and criticizing Stitt. The group has not yet indicated how much it has raised or spent on the ads.

Daylan Moran fills out a voter registration form at the Rock the Native Vote tent during the Price Alliance festivities at Scissortail Park in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

Regardless of how the primary races go, tribal leaders and voter advocacy groups say their work to increase turnout has only just begun. Several organizations will co-host a candidates’ forum in the fall to discuss tribal government issues ahead of the November primary election.

Other priorities include engaging young voters through social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok and working with tribal leaders on ways to provide transportation to the polls.

“This is by far our biggest effort, and we’re excited about what we’ll continue to do,” Wilson said.

Molly Young covers Indigenous affairs for the USA Today Network’s Sunbelt region. Reach her at [email protected] or 405-347-3534.

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