Opinion | Politics

Opinion: Politicians relying on Native voters in a close election

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) campaigns in the village of Napaskiak. Photo from Facebook

Columnist for The New York Times looks at the power of the Native vote in this election cycle:
The Senate, by design, is unrepresentative. Why should Wyoming have as many senators as California, which has more than 60 times the population? That design also means that people in crowded states occasionally have to feign concern for residents in wide-open spaces.

Thus we find ourselves in Alaska and South Dakota, where the native vote could be the only thing that stands in the way of a Republican-controlled Senate. Alaska voters, though quirky and contrarian no matter what the race, seem poised to give the Republican Dan Sullivan the seat now held by the Democrat Mark Begich. Except typically, the polls are more misleading in the Last Frontier than a fish finder’s sonar in a bathtub.

Only about 250,000 people are expected to vote there. Of those, almost one in five has some Alaska Native or Indian blood — the highest percentage of any state. Begich has been feverishly working native villages in advance of the state’s two weeks of early voting. If the race is a nail-biter, look for late returns from, say, Kotzebue, an Inupiat town on a gravel spit 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to decide the winner.

In South Dakota, Native Americans are the largest single minority group, and they tend to vote Democratic. In a three-way race, heavy turnout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation might be enough to prevent the fading Republican front-runner, Mike Rounds, from picking up the seat. Tribal elections are the same day, as is a ballot measure to change the name of Shannon County, which is more than 90 percent Indian, to Oglala Lakota County. In 2012, the tribes of North Dakota provided the winning margin for the Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who won her Senate seat by just over 4,000 votes.

Get the Story:
Timothy Egan: Potlatch for Politicians (The New York Times 10/16)

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Native voters in two states could determine control of Senate (10/14)

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