Montana Vote by County

Elections 2012: Look at the Numbers and Indian Country Outperformed

Mark Trahant

Indian country is the smallest demographic slice of what is America. Yet when the history of the 2012 election is written, it must be said, that Indian country outperformed. By any metric.

Start with The New York Times’ number cruncher Nate Silver. His record on the presidential race was flawless, perfect, actually. But in the races for the U.S. Senate he missed a couple (still pretty damned good). He predicted a 92.5 percent chance for a Republican win there and in Montana a 65.6 percent chance for a Republican win. He missed because, I would bet, his wonderful models don’t include the Indian vote.

And especially an Indian vote that out performed. Both North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Montana’s Senator Jon Tester not only understood that idea, but campaigned on reservations hoping that it would be the one factor no one figured.

Indian country out performed at the voting booth.

Pull apart the numbers and it’s pretty easy to see why. The New York Times has a great graphic that looks at election numbers county by county. In rural Montana those counties are pretty much red. (In one such red county, Libertarian Gary Johnson even beat Obama.) But in the counties where the Indian vote turns out, Glacier, Roosevelt, Blaine and Big Horn (as well as the urban counties) there was a strong shade of blue. In Glacier County, that includes the Blackfeet Reservation, the total votes were twice those of what Mitt Romney earned. And, while the percentages remained the same, the turnout was less than the 2008 election. This raises serious questions about voter access to the polls. There reports of too few ballots in Glacier County, for example.

In North Dakota’s Sioux County Native Americans are 84.1 percent of the population. And that county voted 83.9 percent for Heitkamp. In Rolette County, where Native Americans make up 77.2 percent of the people, Native Americans voted 80.3 percent for Heitkamp. And, in Benson County, 55 percent of the people are American Indian, and that county went for Heitkamp by two-to-one.

Across the country, American Indian and Alaska Native voters turned out in record numbers, the National Congress of American Indians reported Thursday.

In his Chicago victory speech, the President recognized Native Americans as part of his coalition, said Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “That was important that Native Americans were noticed.”

She said it’s time for Indian country to take credit for its success at the polls this election – and remind politicians when issues impacting Indian country are before them.

In Montana and New Mexico, Pata said that Native Americans are registered to vote at a higher rate than any racial or ethnic group. In Montana, 64.1 percent of American Indians are registered, compared to 63.6 percent of the white population. And in New Mexico, that number is 77 percent of those eligible, followed by African Americans at 73 percent, whites at 70 percent, and Latinos at 68 percent.

Peta said it’s important for tribes to keep the infrastructure operational, keeping tribal vote coordinators working toward future elections.

In fact: There is even more opportunity for American Indians to wield influence in off-year election cycles – when the presidential race is not on the ballot – because the overall turnout is so much lower.

Peta said another important aspect of this election was youth participation. Not only did young people register and vote, but young people too young to vote participated on tribal committees, knocked on doors, and talked to other students.

Ten weeks ago, and more than a 100,000 words ago, I started blogging for Indian Country Today Media Network. The idea was to write fast and try to capture as much of what was happening across Indian country in real time. I learned a lot. I am grateful for the experience. And I am signing off. Thank you.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: [email protected].

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