Paula Hopkins with voter registrations
October 28, 2014 –
(MAYETTA) This election year in Kansas Native Americans on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation have decided that they are going to try and make a change. Through a “Get Out the Native Vote” campaign a group of local volunteers recently got organized and went door-to-door to get more people to vote.
And, it worked. In less than a month, the committee has signed up over 114 new registered voters that could have an impact on the Nov. 4 general election. Especially in Kansas where some incumbents are battling for their positions in hotly contested challenges that are making the national news. Media groups like MSNBC and CNN are suggesting that the Governor’s race and Senate race are just too close to call. The political climate in this year’s election also has other candidates feeling the heat from recent numbers being reported by the latest polls.
After the Prairie Band voter campaign was featured on the tribe’s website www.pbpindiantribe.com/news-and-press.aspx?id=1287 on Sept. 23 it was picked up by Indianz.com, a national Indian internet news source on Oct. 15. In a story headlined “Native vote could offer some answers in Kansas” (www.indianz.com/News/2014/015359.asp) reporter Mark Trahant wrote: “If this election is the rise of independents, what about the role of the ultimate independents, American Indians? It’s a small population, a little more than one percent of the state’s population. There are four reservations, an urban population and a community of students at Haskell. Last week, the PBPN held a registration drive that included a taco dinner to door prizes at a powwow. In a state as close as Kansas that small community could provide a potent answer to “what’s with Kansas.”
The group organized after learning that Native Americans are one of the most unregistered groups of voters in the United States. Ten volunteers decided to organize a campaign with the help of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) that is one of the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organizations in the United States. They developed their campaign that was patterned after the NCAI template voting campaign called Native Vote (www.nativevote.org) that was developed several years ago.
“We tried to hit as many locations on the reservation as possible,” said PBPN member and volunteer Paula Hopkins. “It was especially important to get the word out. PBPN government buildings like the Potawatomi Health Center, the Firekeepers Elder Center, and Boys & Girls Club were places where the volunteers set up registration tables. The group was particularly interested in targeting to Native Americans who have never voted like elders and young adults.”
With the election date closing in, the group is still working to keep the community informed about the voting process. Emails from Verna Simon, another volunteer, have been circulating about how to get people to vote in advance and people can be seen wearing their nativevote.org buttons and t-shirts all around the reservation.
In an article titled “Grassroots groups tighten Kan. races” that appeared in the Lawrence Journal-World (Oct. 19), it reported that there are numerous local-level groups gaining strength across the state and that part of it is to oust the state’s conservative leaders whose policies have caused voters to become dissatisfied. Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said that one of the reasons for the close governor’s race is the same tactic that is happening of grassroots organizing—but it is happening from the center and the left.
Whatever is happening the PBPN are playing a part and have scheduled a Native Vote Election Day Potluck on Nov. 4 at the Bingo Hall to celebrate the end to their campaign.