The Democratic Party’s Indian Problem (And Guess Who’s Next?)
When tribes first asked for the month-long access ahead of the 2012 election, McCulloch called satellite offices illegal—until she was corrected by then-attorney general, now governor, Steve Bullock. After that, McCulloch and Republican and Democratic county officials said it was too complicated to run two voting terminals in a county in advance of Election Day: one at the courthouse and one on the reservation. Recently, McCulloch’s elections deputy admitted in a Wandering Medicine deposition that their office has done nothing in the past 18 months to adjust the state’s voting computer program to smooth the process.
Keeping American Indians from the ballot box makes more sense for the GOP, which benefits from depressed turnout in some groups; it began pushing voter-suppression measures nationwide within hours of the Supreme Court’s June 2013 Shelby decision, according to the ACLU. In Montana, the GOP-dominated legislature placed a referendum to end Election Day registration on the 2014 ballot. If approved, this would hit young, senior and Native voters, said Montana Democratic state legislator Sharon Peregoy, who’s Crow.
Yet, Montana Republican Congressman Steve Daines, who’s running for the Senate, is reaching out to tribes. He appointed a tribal liaison, Amanda Peterson, from Crow, saying he wants to ensure Native voices are heard and the government-to-government relationship is strong. He has backed issues important to tribes, including preventing violence against women. Concerning voting rights, spokeswoman Alee Lockman said Daines considered this a state matter, but urged “a resolution that will ultimately ensure Montana Native Americans are able to exercise their right to vote.” He also supported the sequester, the government shutdown and cuts in food stamps, all of which are tough on tribes.
Native voters may reconsider allegiances in the context of low party loyalty throughout Montana, said Main. “Politicians switch all the time. In the 2014 primary, one Democratic candidate is a former Republican lieutenant governor.” Main added, “Many of us Indians are Kennedy Democrats, voting to honor our grandparents’ admiration of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. We may rethink that.”
Semans foresaw Indians registering as Independents, saying, “It would do more good in the long run.”
Said Peregoy: “No one should take the Indian vote for granted.”
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