Chapter 5: Native Americans fight back
The story of the Navajo in San Juan County, Nevada and the Native American counties in North Dakota is a story of the endurance of patriotic spirit.
In San Juan County, Nevada, a man by the name of Gray Eyes was unlawfully removed from the ballot. This was done by city officials and representatives who claimed that Gray Eyes did not live in the state of Nevada, but Arizona, even though he had provided adequate documentation of his property and activity of his business. Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of Gray Eyes and he was immediately reinstated on the ballot. After Grey Eyes won the election, he said to a reporter “Whatever they do, it is just a game, a political game and the only way to address it is not to give up.”
In North Dakota, the 3 counties of Sioux, Benson, and Turtle Mountain are home to more than 90% of the Native American population. New voter ID laws directly targeted the commonly known fact that reservations do not have addresses. Of course, the state was no help in trying to rectify the situation. So, in response, people began to step up. In only 25 days, leaders needed to map out and assign addresses to the homes within the reservation, print new tribal IDs and get people to the voting station. This was an incredibly daunting and expensive task, yet with the help of community leaders, volunteered resources/technology and will of the Native American community, all 3 counties responded with voter turnout that surpassed that of the 2016 presidential election.
Reverend John Floberg said it best in a radio interview:
Is this finding a loophole? If the state of North Dakota wants to play games, then we’ll find ways to do that.”
Here is what I take away from this: Representatives want to win and to stay in power, and in order to protect their seat they will create barriers for individuals and communities to vote. I do agree with standard voter ID laws, but I do not agree with the clear intent to take away the ability/accessibility to vote from any citizen in this country. The reason for the Native American situation is clear and continually taken advantage of by those who should want to enrich these communities. It’s wrong. The fighting spirit of those in Nevada and North Dakota beat to a larger drum of the good government and democracy reform movement in this country, and like many of us on here and across the country, I am proud to be a part of the fight.
Ben Walton is the Head of Program Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Ben served as the High School and College Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians. Ben received his BA in Political Science from Aquinas College in 2018
This is an important book. Thank you to the author for inspiring others by the stories it tells, and thank you to the Politics for the People book club for this discussion.
What the book drove home is how citizens must fight for equal rights with their elected officials.
Even in states with various forms of citizen initiative, there are stories of sitting politicians raising the bar to place citizen initiatives on the ballot, challenging single-subject wording, or, most egregiously of all, undoing voter-mandated reforms.
How, upon being elected, did politicians decide they were no longer among us? Weren’t they once ordinary voters like us? How did they become corrupted by power so that power in-and-of-itself is an aim?
I blame the two-party system and its reinforcement of power plays at all levels of what should be democracy. Most importantly, when independent voters are denied a voice in the primary, we continue to elect candidates who campaign on party purity (an absurd but enduring notion.)
I am acutely and sadly aware of partisan politics in Pennsylvania, where we are engaged in a fight for redistricting reform as well as equal voting rights for independent voters.
But I am encouraged by the nationwide trend of voters to reject partisan categorization by asserting their independence and demanding equal rights as voters.
Diana Dakey is an independent voter because she rejects the notion for herself and others that voters can be ideologically categorized into some notion of what is a Republican or a Democrat, when, really, those constructs are awkward coalitions kept together by party leaders to maintain party power. Politics should be about ideas and solutions, not power. She resides in Pennsylvania.
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