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Low Voter Turnout Among Natives This Year So Far

Kent Osborne

Observers say that early voting in Indian Country is down this year. They attribute the low numbers to an early voting center in Pine Ridge where a homicide occurred in the parking lot, inconvenient road construction, and long distances to vote.

In a close congressional race with national implications, a strong native vote can sway elections. Some political analysts point out that in 2002 for example, a strong native turn out helped Tim Johnson keep his U.S. Senate seat in a race against then challenger John Thune.

Fall River county Auditor Sue Ganje also oversees Oglala Lakota county elections. She says this year’s early voter turnout is low due to voting locations, construction and lack of funding to drive natives to the polls.

“We are seeing a lesser turnout than we have in the past.  But I think the bigger problem it seems like is in the past political parties and what not provide some funding to get drivers to take voters to the polls and from what I’m understanding that money is not there this year," Ganje says. "So, obviously when they’re able to get out and bring people to the polls our numbers increase immensely.”

Ganje says despite low turnout, early voting will continue at the SuAnne Big Crow center in Pine Ridge.

O.J. Semans is with the Group Four Directions.  He says get out the vote efforts require funding that isn’t there this year….

“One of the things that always affects Indian Country more than anything else is whether or not there is a highly contested race. And in South Dakota, if there isn’t a highly contested race, basically any donors that want to help turn out the native vote don’t turn out to South Dakota. You’re probably not going to see, probably no (Get Out The Vote) operations in Indian Country," Semans says.

The Secretary of State’s office says that low voter turnout is also the result of a high number of ballot issues to vote on this year. Shantel Krebs’s spokesperson Jason Williams says voters are spending more time studying all ten measures before voting.