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Governor’s race tightens

Democrats urge Indians to go to the polls



 

 

PIERRE – The South Dakota Democratic Party has stepped up its game in recent years to get voters on and near reservations to register to vote and provide transportation to the polls.

Tribal Organizing Director for the South Dakota Democratic Party, James Robert Colombe, wants to get the rural and urban tribal communities educated and briefed on the importance of voting. The recent television ads show the race for governor is getting aggressive, as recently published polls show gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton has a slight edge over Kristi Noem. Both have been hitting the towns and city halls conducting meetings and making promises for their administrations, should they win.

These promises affect tribal communities in many ways, including education, healthcare, economic development and the future of Indian lands.

As director of the organizing program, Colombe (Sicangu Lakota) works with all of the Tribal Get Out The Vote efforts and is aware of the needs each community presents in regards to distance needed to travel to vote, socio-economic conditions which prevent registered voters to the polls and the hardships of having an address to register to vote. These challenges also include having a proper identification card needed when registering and voting.

“There are 10 Native candidates running for office in South Dakota this year, and I help coordinate efforts between the State Party and all of those campaigns. Our goal is to get as many of them elected as possible and to make sure Native peoples have a voice at the polls this year,” said Colombe.

According to the Director, the state party has dedicated funds specifically to Native Get Out The Vote. “My work encompasses voter education and access to the polls. I am based in Mission, but I work with tribes, local candidates, and local organizations across the state to make sure we reach as many voters as possible,” he said.

Over the years, tribal voter turnout has been low in both rural and urban areas. This is in part due to unforeseen circumstances, and in part due to lack of trust in the process. North Dakota recently passed the voter ID law which required voters to have a valid ID with a street address and tribal members will not be able to use a P.O. Box for an address. Often times, as is true in South Dakota, physical addresses are not designated on reservations, especially in the rural areas.

This program helps in some of these cases with rural voting.

“There are limited options for early voting on South Dakota reservations, and many people lack access to transportation. Without a vehicle or gas money, people can’t physically get to the polls,” Colombe said. “Many people worry that registering to vote means that they will be called for jury duty. I ask these folks if they would rather not have any Natives on juries.”

Myths and rumors persist in isolated communities which create and foster distrust in a system which doesn’t seem to affect a tribal citizen. The notion of ‘It don’t matter who is in office, I am still going to be poor’ is used as an excuse not to take part in elections, including tribal elections. In actuality, who is in office is very important to every tribal citizen, whether in state, county or tribal government.

“We have organizers on the ground connecting with voters in Pine Ridge and Rosebud, and are looking to hire someone in Eagle Butte. We’ll be running radio ads and a social media campaign to help with voter education, and we’ll be offering rides to the polls for anyone who wants to vote, regardless of party,” Colombe said.

“People need to understand the importance of voting. Local, state, and national politics all affect tribes and Native peoples. When people say that voting doesn’t matter, I remind them that we’re electing a new governor this year and that state governors sent police to fight the water protectors at Standing Rock. Voting is the best way to ensure that officeholders from county commissioners to the President of the United States are people who believe that government should work with us, and not against us,” he said.

According to Colombe, and as part of his campaign of dispelling myths, felons can vote and he wants readers to know that if they are currently serving a felony sentence, while in prison, on parole, or completing a restitution, they can NOT vote. But those felons who are no longer serving their sentence and are no longer “on paper”, are eligible to vote.

(Contact Native Sun News Today Correspondent Richie Richards at richie4175@gmail.com)

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