May 22, 2007-American Indian voters are poised to begin playing a much bigger role in election politics, if past trends are any indication. That’s just one of the conclusions in a new book titled “Native Vote,” co-authored by Daniel McCool, Susan Olson and Jennifer Robinson of the University of Utah.
American Indians were not even considered citizens until they were granted citizenship in 1924. The right to vote came later in most Western states, and as late as the 1950s the state of Utah was trying to prevent Indian people from voting. Today, the situation has changed dramatically. Beginning in the late 1970s, Indians began to take advantage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and bring litigation to challenge voting discrimination in local and state elections. Many of these suits succeeded through either settlements or trials in reducing barriers to electoral participation. Then, in the 1990s, several Indian organizations made a systematic effort to register American Indians and get them to the polls in ever-increasing numbers.
As a result, the “native vote” has become pivotal in some Western states. According to the book, “In 2000, Indian voters helped [Democrat] Maria Cantwell defeat [Republican U.S.] Sen. Slade Gorton [in Washington state], and helped Al Gore carry New Mexico.” Two years later, Indian voters again displayed their potential power. In South Dakota, they provided the winning margin for Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson in his very close re-election bid, and they were credited with helping to elect Democratic Gov. Brad Henry in Oklahoma. Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona acknowledged at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that “Without the Native Americans, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
According to an article in the New York Times on September 24, 2004, “In the last few years, political races from Congress to county sheriff have begun to hinge on the Indian vote … .” Indian tribes also have become big players in campaign contributions, lobbying and running candidates for office. Co-author McCool says that with the growing influence of the Western states in presidential primaries, the Indian vote will become even more important. “I think it’s safe to say that there are specific scenarios where the presidential race could hinge on the vote in some Western states, much like it did on Florida in 2000 or Pennsylvania in 2004. Indian voters have already proven that they can swing statewide elections in Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota. If any of these states becomes pivotal in a tight presidential race, the Indian vote could make the difference,” says McCool.
“Native Vote” is the first book-length analysis of the newfound political power of American Indian people. It describes the long struggle of American Indians to get the right to vote, and explains how they are wielding this power to influence elections, and benefit tribes. The book offers an analysis of the 70-plus court cases in Indian Country that were based on the Voting Rights Act; several such cases are still in the courts. “Native Vote” is the only comprehensive study of these cases. The Voting Rights Act was reauthorized by Congress in September 2006, so there is a strong likelihood that many more cases will be filed in the future. There was a time when American Indians were not considered players on the political stage. That perception has changed dramatically in recent years, and all indications are that Native peoples are now a potent force in Western politics. “Native Vote” explains how this change came about, and how it is affecting contemporary elections.
The book “Native Vote” is published by the Cambridge University Press. For more information please visit: www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521548717