OPINION: Cherokee voters critical voices in 2020 election

BY CHUCK HOSKIN JR
Principal Chief
09/30/2020 11:00 AM
The Cherokee Nation is committed to ensuring that all voting age Cherokees are registered to vote. Recently, we celebrated CN Voter Registration Day because we know how important it is for our citizens to have a voice in our democracy.

While 2020 has already been a strange and historic year, it will also be one of the most important election years in our lifetime. This is not just at the presidential level, but for state and local elections around the country. And that’s where you come in.

Native people, especially here in Oklahoma, can have a tremendous impact on state and local elections. If you look at our most recent gubernatorial election, that race was decided by about 144,000 votes. The total voting-eligible Native American population in Oklahoma is about 370,000 people, more than enough to be a decisive voting bloc in any statewide election.

The CN is committed to ensuring our citizens know their voices matter in state and national government and providing them the tools necessary to participate in the electoral process. That’s why we created the Cherokee Vote project back in 2013 and have continually pushed voter registration to the Cherokee people.

This initiative, led by our Government Relations team, is dedicated to getting every CN citizen registered to vote and providing them the information they need to participate in upcoming elections. Since its inception, the Cherokee Vote project has registered more than 13,000 voters and has provided our people with the resources needed to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Prior to the pandemic, Cherokee Vote staff and volunteers visited communities throughout our reservation and traveled to at-large Cherokee community organizations around the country, registering voters and speaking to the importance of governmental participation via elections.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled many such in-person events, our Cherokee Vote team continues to be innovative in how we reach our citizens. We are promoting voter registration on our CN website and social media platforms, as well as raising awareness through virtual events. We have also set up a voter registration booth at CN headquarters in Tahlequah, where we safely assist citizens with the voter registration process.

In addition to having fewer face-to-face interactions over the past six months, the pandemic has also intensified many existing issues in Indian Country, from health inequalities and socioeconomic challenges to the lack of basic infrastructure in many of our tribal communities. The decisions that are made by our elected representatives directly impact our ability to respond to these challenges and address these issues in the long term. While we appreciate the federal government’s investment in Indian Country during this time of crisis, we have also encountered many challenges with the deployment of these resources.

Many of these challenges were created by a lack of understanding and education about tribal issues from our elected leaders. As Native people, it’s important that we hold these leaders accountable and ensure that they are aware of the issues that impact our communities. The most direct way of doing this is at the ballot box.

It is clear we can make an impact on statewide elections in Oklahoma, and that impact can be magnified at the local level. Many local elections are decided by just a handful of votes. Thus, I encourage every eligible Cherokee to cast a ballot, be informed about the candidates and issues, and plan to participate in this election and every future one.

We can register people to vote, but it’s a useless exercise if they don’t follow through. Every Cherokee registered to vote must go out and cast their ballots, either in person or through absentee voting. We must not only check the boxes for leaders who understand our issues, but we also need more Native people from all tribes to run for office and represent our interests, from local city and county offices to the highest levels of the federal government.

Oct. 9 is the deadline to register to vote in Oklahoma in the upcoming election, and Election Day is Nov. 3.

We look forward to seeing the largest Native voter participation in history in the November elections. There is not a district in Oklahoma where the Native vote cannot be the determining factor of the outcome, but that requires our participation. Please vote.

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