The Native Vote campaign began on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation in 2014. Two dedicated employees were tasked with initiating the campaign and in the first year they did an excellent job of registering voters within the community. They were able to register 135 new voters through setting up voter drives at various community events and canvasing door-to-door at reservation housing sites. The committee also arranged for volunteers to drive people to the polls. After the state elections andreviewing the voter listit wasrevealed only30% of the tribal community had voted.
Going into 2016, the Native Vote committeewas more prepared. Two more employees in key positions joined the committee;the Nation’s Assistant General Manager and the Media Relations Specialist. The committee also used time to their advantage and began their activities in February 2016. The group decided to continue previous registration efforts, increase local media andfocus on voter turn-out.
The committee determined it would benefit the community if they could bring a voting site back to the reservation. The benefits would include ease of accessibility and having a location that was not intimidating. The last time a voting station was held on the reservation was in 2002, at the Pottawatomi Methodist Church. Due to the purchase of a new scanning system by the county, voting locations were scaled back. Beginning in 2004, St. Xavier’s Church in Mayetta, Kan. has been the primary voting site for Lincoln Township (the township covering the majority of the reservation).
The Native Vote committee reached out to the Jackson County Clerk’s office to discuss the matter. The Jackson County Clerk’s office said they did not have enough resources to open a polling station on the reservation on the national Election Day and instead offered the solution of supplying an advance polling station. The Native Vote Committee jumped on board at the opportunity.
Arrangements were made to use the Fire Keepers Elder Center as the host site.The center is centrally located on the reservation and a large amount of elders travel there daily. The building is a familiar space in the community and has the capacity to accommodate the polling station. On October 26, 2016, approximately 87 members of the community came out to vote.
Some of the other activities the Native Vote committee initiated included hosting two education sessions for the Nation’s summer youth workers. The committee engaged them about the process of registering to vote and why their vote mattered. The youth were reminded that while they may not be eligible to vote, they could encourage their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to use their vote.
The committee also used the Nation’s media resources to help change the mentality of “my vote doesn’t matter.” The Native Vote campaign posters were edited to show images of members of the PBPN community; the children, elders, veterans and resources like the buffalo herd and land. Updating the posters helped reframe the context and increase the sense of connection that a local vote does matter. The posters were distributed to area departments, placed on media screens in buildings throughout the reservation and shared on Facebook.
The committee also sent out several email blasts during the year to ensure employees knew how they could get registered to vote, who they could contact, what resources were available to learn more about the election process and important dates.
Throughout 2016, the committee also met with several different audiences to help spread the word on voting. A presentation was made to the Four Tribes of Kansas. The committee also traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to work with students at Haskell Indian Nations University to register voters and provide them with information on Native Vote. The committee also met with the local high school to pursue registering voters. These activities were also in conjunction with setting up at a community event approximately once a month. From all of these coordinated activities the committee registered 32 new voters.
The Native Vote committee concluded the year’s activities by hosting a Community Potluck and Watch Party at the Old Bingo Hall on Election Night. All individuals that used the Advance Vote location as well as those that voted on Election Day were entered into the door prize drawings. Several prizes and accommodations were made available through the generosity of the PBPN Tribal Council, PBPN DPP program, Prairie Band Casino & Resort and NCAI (National Congress of American Indians). Around 100 tribal members came out to enjoy the potluck dinner and receive prizes ranging from Wal-mart gift certificates, Casino buffet passes, Native themed art prints, and Pendleton and logo’d merchandise from the PBCR gift shop.
Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond the Native Vote Committee strongly encourages anyone interested to join. As a committee, a long term goal for the tribal community is to have tribal members run for public offices, such as the School Board, Watershed Districts, County offices and even state offices.