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Opinion
Tom Daschle: Indian Country Shows Its Clout Again


The following is an op-ed by Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota).

Just as they did in Senator Tim Johnson�s re-election in 2002, Native Americans played a critical role in the special election that sent Democrat Stephanie Herseth to Congress. Voters in Indian Country once again turned out in record numbers to elect the candidate who will best represent their interests in Washington. Last week�s election saw voter participation in some counties more than double turnout for the 2002 primary election.

I want to personally thank the thousands of Native Americans who went to the polls to cast their vote last Tuesday. For too long, too many politicians either ignored the Native American community or took it for granted. That day is no more. The increased turnout in a primary election is a testament to the many Native Americans who worked tirelessly to register every voter they could, and to get voters to the polls. Just as in 2002, this election saw an influx of new voters: young people voting for the first time, elderly men and women casting their first votes ever. And after another close election, all South Dakotans know that every vote counts. Indeed, the special election was yet another race where the Native vote made the difference.

While high turnout should be cause for celebration, it appears that some would rather turn Native Americans away from the polls. The recent election has produced a number of disturbing anecdotes from Native Americans who were the subject of harassment and mean-spirited attacks, all designed to dissuade them from exercising their right to vote. In the days following the election, my office has heard stories of intimidation at the polls and some voters being wrongfully denied the opportunity to cast a ballot.

Unfortunately, these stories are not new. In 2002, we witnessed ugly efforts to suppress the votes of Native Americans and other minorities. Those who seek to disenfranchise Native Americans or any other group of legal voters simply to help them win a particular election do a tremendous disservice to our democracy. We saw such tactics in 2002, we saw them last week, and I am afraid that if we are not careful we will see them in November. We must not allow those who seek to close the door to the voting booth to be successful. As the November elections approach, it is critical that we take every step to encourage all South Dakotans to vote, and ensure that every voter has access to the ballot box on Election Day.

In November, Indian Country will once again play a crucial role. Stephanie Herseth and I will be on the ballot here in South Dakota. With control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives hanging in the balance and very close elections expected in South Dakota and across the country, Indian Country literally has the opportunity to help decide who controls power in Washington. It is an amazing opportunity and an incredible responsibility.

In the coming months, Stephanie, Tim Johnson and I will continue our work to ensure the federal government honors its commitments to Native Americans. No Indian child should attend school in a dilapidated building. Native American men and women should not be forced to go without medical care that most Americans consider basic. And we will do everything possible to protect access to the voting booth for all South Dakotans so they can vote freely and without intimidation

Relevant Links:
Senator Tom Daschle - http://daschle.senate.gov

Related Stories:
South Dakota Indian vote doubled last week (6/7)
Republican admits Indian voters decided election (6/4)
Russell Means ready to give up on Republican Party (6/3)
Voting problems reported by South Dakota Indians (6/3)
Democrat Stephanie Herseth heads to House (6/2)