Tribes work for record Native American vote

(AP) June 2012

The head of the largest group representing Native Americans and Alaska Natives said federal and state governments should provide voter registration at Indian Health Service facilities.

Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the health facilities should be designated voter registration sites in the same way state-based public assistance agencies are under the National Voter Registration Act. He said the facilities are ideal for voter registration because they're in many tribal communities.

“Not all Native Americans are registered, and that's one of the things we are pushing for this year is to turn out the largest Native vote in history,” Keel said.

Indian Health Service spokeswoman Dianne Dawson said the agency had no comment at this time.

Only two of every five American Indians and Alaska Natives who are eligible to vote were registered in 2008, Keel told a gathering of tribal leaders at the opening of the midyear meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Lincoln, Neb. He said an estimated 1 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives who are eligible to vote are not registered.

“This should be considered a civic emergency,” Keel said.

Keel said the voter registration and turnout work is not intended to be partisan, but American Indians have made significant gains under the current administration and tribes want to protect their resources and sovereignty.