Indian Country Vote Key in South Dakota, Alaska and Wisconsin Races

Indian Country Vote Key in South Dakota, Alaska and Wisconsin Races

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I am hoping that my ballot is in the mail today. I am ready to vote. What I really like about voting early is that it’s an inoculation against all the TV and Internet ads. Once I have voted, I know that I am just wasting campaign or special interest money.

So here we are two weeks to go until the formal Election Day and counting of ballots.

Remember two years ago Indian Country voters outperformed. As I wrote then, this smallest demographic slice of the population made a difference in the outcomes in Montana and South Dakota races for the U.S. Senate (the only two states Nate Silver called wrong).

In 2014 these are my three elections to watch: Alaska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Two of those states have tight Senate races (the latest Real Clear Politics look at the average of all polls estimates a Republican pick-up of 8 seats, enough for a Senate majority.)

South Dakota is now polling within the margin of error for a four-way race. That means the race is essentially tied and it will be won by the campaign that’s best organized to get their voters to the polls.

Former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican in the race, is viewed unfavorably by more than half of those surveyed, 51 percent, and that could lead a lot of conservatives to vote for Gordie Howie, an independent. In the most recent poll, Howie is earning about 5 percent support. As more of the national talk, however, focuses on either independent Larry Pressler or the Democrat Rick Weiland, I think this makes Howie more likely to get Tea Party support. So watch: if Howie gets more than 5 percent, that will come from Rounds and make it more likely that Pressler or Weiland wins.

And which one? That really depends on Indian Country. Will there be a turnout and consistent vote for one or the other. President Obama won nearly 3,000 votes from Shannon County in 2012, 93.4 percent of the vote. Can that number grow as voters consider changing the name of the county to Oglala Lakota County? My guess is that Weiland will get the majority of those votes, but the bigger question is can he get a large percentage, 80 or even 90 percent? (If you look through the 2014 election map and every blue county is an American Indian homeland.)

The other thing to watch is early voting numbers. The bigger the early returns, the more likely outcome favoring Weiland.

Turning to Wisconsin. The hot race in this state is for governor — and there are several issues that impact Indian Country, including mining policy. Polls show this as a tight race. Two factors that are hard to see how they will play out is the increased number of jobs and the drop in gas prices. Both are good news — so it’s a matter of perception (Are the governor’s policies responsible? Or does the president get credit?)

The Native Vote Program for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters has a goal of increasing the Native American turnout by 6 percent. To put that challenge in perspective: The turnout of Native voters was only 34 percent in the last governor’s election while the general turnout was 52 percent. That means there is a lot of room for growth. Especially with early vote. (Just think: With early voting, a community could even hit 100 percent turnout.)

I’ll have a lot more to say about Alaska this week. The First Alaskans Institute’s Youth and Elders Conference is underway in Anchorage (Shoni Schimmel speaks today, yay!) and Thursday is the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Both are big deals — especially during an election year.

Gotta run. Idaho needs my ballot mailed back.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.