A really important story this election cycle.

Native Vote should surge in ‘16

This article first appeared in the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Newsletter.

Deadline to register to vote in Oregon Primary is April 26 (You can register to vote here.)

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By Jane Hill, CTUIR Legislative Program Manager

Access to voting in Oregon is better than ever this year thanks to the new Motor Voter Law. It makes Oregon the first state in the nation to implement automatic voter registration and has already resulted in over 25,000 newly registered voters as of April 1.

“What you are doing in Oregon is really innovative. If we believe in democracy then we have to take away barriers and make it easier to meet our civic obligation to vote,” said National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Executive Director Jacqueline Pata. “I hope this becomes the law in other states.”

If you are not registered and want to vote in the May Primary, you must register by April 26 at beregistered.org or with a voter registration card.

But, over time, the Motor Voter Law will continue to capture eligible voters when they go to a DMV office to obtain or renew a license or state ID card. A few weeks after their DMV visit, they will get a card in the mail with a pre-paid return envelope from the State Elections Office.  The card offers three options: Do nothing and be registered to vote as a nonaffiliated voter, return the card and choose a political party or use the card to opt-out and decline to register to vote.

Once registered, each voter will automatically receive a ballot and instructions in the mail before the election. CTUIR members, employees and anyone who lives in the area can drop off their ballot at the Official Ballot Drop Box at the Nixyaawii Governance Center or mail it in.  Each ballot is secret and your choices cannot be matched to your name.

“If you care about educating our children and how to tackle the problems we face then you need to make sure Indian dollars are protected and vote – especially in national elections,” said Pata.


There are many examples across the U.S. where the path to victory was paved through Indian Country.  U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) was elected in 2012 by a 1 percent margin and credits her success to Native Americans.

NCAI Director Pata said, “She has worked closely with Tribes and understands the importance of our nation-to-nation relationship.” Today, Heitkamp is a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

In 2006, U. S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) won his election by less than 4,000 votes. He communicated regularly with Tribal nations across the state and over 17,000 ballots were cast on Indian reservations.  

CTUIR Treasurer Rosenda Shippentower  said this year’s vote is critical for Indian Country.

“This year’s presidential election is important in many ways but what is paramount to me is the next president may appoint three new Supreme Court Justices. Three of the Justices are getting up in age and could be stepping down from the bench during the new president’s term,” said Shippentower. “The Supreme Court and its decisions regarding Indian Law have an enormous effect and impact all of Indian Country.”  



While vote-by-mail makes voting easy in Oregon, Tribes across the country are embroiled in legal battles to fend off restrictive policies that limit their right to cast a vote.

According to Indian Country Today, Tribes in 17 states have documented electoral problems or are in the middle of litigation to assert their rights.

Many states employ laws that disenfranchise Native Americans. Some Tribes don’t require official identification or don’t have addresses on their ID so when tribal members go to vote, their IDs are deemed insufficient. In 2014, more than 500 Navajo voters were made inactive because their records lacked street addresses.

“Indians are fighting for their rights across the country so we have a big role to play here. My generation can take this year’s election by storm if we all vote,” said Lennox Lewis, CTUIR Youth Council Chairman. “We need to stand tall and make ourselves heard.”

NCAI coordinates NativeVote.org and this year Pata says they want to target young voters.

“Our population is growing and the biggest demographic is 18-24 year olds,” Pata said.  “Those are first-time voters. It’s so important that we concentrate on getting first time voters to be lifetime voters.”

Lewis will be one of those first time voters.

“I’m 17 and I just registered online so that I can vote for the first time in November,” said Lewis. “I’ll turn 18 this summer and I get to have a voice in the presidential election.”

The Primary election in Oregon will take place May 17.  .  If you want to cast a vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders or Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton you must be registered as a Democrat. If you want to choose between the Republican candidates, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Governor John Kasich or Donald Trump, you must be registered as a Republican.  

If you are registered with a party you will be able to vote in the primary to select candidates for partisan races including President, U.S. Senator (Wyden’s seat), U.S. Congress (Walden’s seat), Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General and state legislative races.

If you are not registered with a party you will receive a May ballot that will be limited to the following,  depending on where you live:  Athena-Weston School Bond, Echo School Bond, Circuit Court Judge, Umatilla County Commissioner, Milton-Freewater City Council, Pendleton City Council and Umatilla County Fire District Director.

17 year olds may register now. If their 18th birthday comes before May 16 they will receive a ballot to vote in the May Primary.  If their birthday comes after May 16 but before Nov. 8 they will get a ballot to vote in the November General Election.

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