Dems determined to find voters in Indian Country

2008-10-04T23:00:00Z Dems determined to find voters in Indian CountryJODI RAVE Of the Missoulian The Billings Gazette
October 04, 2008 11:00 pm  • 

MISSOULA - Betty Cooper, a Democratic campaign organizer on the Blackfeet Reservation, said she sent a volunteer to "enemy territory" on Thursday to register American Indian voters living among the Republican majority in Cut Bank.

Cooper said she will not be easily dissuaded by the Republican Party's move last week to challenge the eligibility of 6,000 voters in six state counties, two which include the Blackfeet and Rocky Boy's reservations.

"We're well aware they are watching us no matter what we do," Cooper said. "We're just trying to get people registered. It seems like for Indian people, the only time we have a voice is when we vote. If we can get all our people to vote, there's not much the Republicans can do to us."

Democratic campaign workers across Montana have displayed similar determination. Organizers are close to meeting registration goals on four of the seven reservations. Indians make up 6 percent of Montana's population, one of three states where the Obama-Biden campaign is targeting the Indian vote. Similar efforts are under way in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

"Senator Obama, this year, and Montana Democrats for many years, has invested time and resources in Indian Country that is unprecedented," said Kevin O'Brian, Democratic Party spokesman. "The excitement and the energy we've seen, especially among the first Montanans, is really amazing. It's a big piece of the Democratic coalition."

American Indians make up 61 percent of the Glacier County population and 20 percent of Hill County. About 6,900 Indian voters were registered in both counties for the June primary. Glacier County had one of the third highest reservation turnouts in the primary election with 40 percent of the people casting votes.

"It's the time where we have to step up as a voting bloc in the state of Montana," said Eleanor Yellow Robe, the Indian vote coordinator for the Montana Democratic Party. "If we band together, we can get out people who aren't adequately representing us. That's what voting is about. That's why I work so hard. I'm not the only one."

She said volunteers have had great success in registering voters in tribal communities.

"You work the bingos, you work the IHS (Indian Health Services) facilities, the senior centers, anywhere you can catch a group of people, or if you know where they live, which the local volunteers do."

O'Brian said the state Democratic Party will make sure everyone's constitutional right to vote is enforced in the general election.

In 1924, American Indians were the last to be given the legal right to vote in the United States, falling in line behind blacks and women.

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