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Navajo officials urge tribal members to register to vote

By Felicia Fonseca
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 1-08

As the voter registration deadline for presidential primaries and caucuses in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah draws near, Navajo officials are urging tribal members to cast their votes.

“Our vote is the only way that we can hold our nation’s leaders accountable to the challenges and aspirations of Indian Country,” said Navajo Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan. “We need to build political power in Indian Country throughout America and we can do this one vote at a time.”

Several presidential candidates have outlined initiatives in support of Indian Country, though none have personally campaigned on the Navajo Nation – the country’s largest Indian reservation – said Edison Wauneka, director of the Navajo Election Administration.

Candidates focused their efforts early this month in Iowa as that state held its presidential caucus.

Laura Harris, executive director of Americans for Indian Opportunity, expects the candidates to court Indian Country leading up to primaries or caucuses held Feb. 5 in 23 states, including those that make up the Navajo Nation.

“You’ll definitely see New Mexico being important, Oklahoma will be important on February 5th,” she said. “You’ll see the candidates really pushing for more Native American stuff.”

“Native Americans are pretty well-informed voters, and they certainly know their issues – tribal sovereignty, health care and education, which is part of the federal trust responsibility,” she said. “We know those issues.”

More than 50 percent of registered Navajo voters turned out for the 2004 presidential elections, and the majority of them were elderly voters, Wauneka said.

“The lack of interest is really with the young people,” he said. “In the previous nationwide election, less than 200 18- to 25-year-olds voted.”

Party officials said they will have Navajo interpreters available at a handful of sites in McKinley, Bernalillo and San Juan counties.

Morgan urged Navajos to be aware of new voter registration requirements that require Arizonans to prove their citizenship to register to vote and show identification to cast ballots at polling places.

He also encouraged Navajos to vote early and help elderly tribal members make their way to the polls.

With Arizona and New Mexico considered battleground states, Morgan said American Indians have the power to determine the outcome of the presidential election.

“Political change will not come about until Native people take action by exercising their right to vote,” he said. “Let us mobilize as voters and demand the attention that we deserve as Indian people. We have the power to bring about great change in Indian Country.”