Cherokee Nation’s Project 320K Gives Natives a Voice in Elections
One vote in an election can go a long way. What would 320,000 votes do?
In the 2010 battle for the state of Oklahoma’s gubernatorial office, Republican Mary Fallin defeated Democrat Jari Askins by a margin of 216,245 votes. Yet, if 320,000 votes would have been in Askins’ favor, it would be Askins instead of Fallin as the head of Oklahoma’s executive branch.
The northeast Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation has approximately 320,000 members throughout the world. Yet, in the October 2011 special election between incumbent Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker, only 19,831 votes were shared between the two candidates—an estimated 6.2 percent of total Cherokee Nation enrollment. Baker, in the official certified results, won by 1,575 votes.
If a state government had 320,000 extra votes, what would the outcomes be? If the Cherokee Nation had all of its adult population voting, would the Baker/Smith contests have had the same outcome? Although these questions are merely theoretical, one thing is clear—the need for more participation in tribal, local, county, state and federal elections is real.
The Cherokee Nation’s goal is to expand voter participation in all these realms with Project 320K, a voter registration initiative aimed at all of its unregistered adult voters, which number at least 198,000, according to project coordinator and Cherokee citizen Chelsea Wilson.
“We have Cherokees in every Congressional district in the country,” said Wilson, a legislative assistant with the tribe’s Government Relations Department. “We’re really trying to harness that power.”
The comprehensive program officially launched at Cherokee National Holiday, August 30-31 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Strategies for this program include sending birthday cards—along with tribal and state voter registration cards—to tribal members upon their 18th birthday. Slogans and marketing for the initiative’s cards and t-shirts include pre-U.S. citizenship pictures of Cherokees that say “They Couldn’t, You Can.”
The program is also within the halls of Cherokee government, where there is a contest to see which department has the most registered voters. Casino employees are also part of the program, where voter registration information is included in human resources paperwork for both tribal and non-tribal citizen employees.
For the Cherokee National Holiday weekend, registration goals at the annual powwow and other holiday activities will be 320. After Labor Day, volunteer coordinators will also travel throughout the 14 Oklahoma counties that make up the Cherokee Nation tribal jurisdiction and identify non-registered Cherokee voters.