Future elections may hinge on Indian vote, book says

By By Federico Martin

By Federico Martin

While American Indians are not the most influential minority group in the United States, a new book written by a team of U researchers says their growing influence in national and local politics could make them a deciding factor in future elections.

The book Native Vote, co-authored by Dan McCool, director of the U’s American West Center, points to specific elections in which the American Indian vote has helped carry the Democratic candidate to office. The book argues that the power of the American Indian vote has relied on their voting as a Democratic block, originating back to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today, this voting behavior makes them particularly important, especially in state races.

“For such a small population, they can be pivotal in future closely contested elections,” McCool said.

The book is co-authored by Susan Olson, a professor of political science, and Jennifer Robinson, a research associate.

McCool admits that American Indian politics is not a subject that has received particular attention in the past, but for him, the decision to pursue and research the subject was easy to make, considering he has been studying American Indian politics since the early 1980s.

In addition to being the first in-depth look at the influence of the American Indian vote, the book is already getting much attention from political activists in the American Indian community. The book’s authors say their work is also a tool to show the importance of voting to the many American Indians who don’t participate in elections.

There is already a Native Vote 2008 campaign within American Indian communities to push for more participation and to encourage American Indians to run for office.

Olson stresses that Native Vote is shedding light on little-known facts about the rights of American Indians, and that knowing their rights will encourage American Indians to work hard to use and preserve them.

While American Indians do not possess population numbers high enough to dictate the outcome of a national election solely based on their voting patterns, the authors speculate that if future elections mirror the past, they could help swing an election in the Democrats’ favor.

Besides drawing conclusions on the impact of American Indians in future elections, Native Vote also details the historic struggles with voting rights Indians faced and current problems with district gerrymandering.

“It gives a historical overview of the legal status of Indians and looks primarily at lawsuits brought under the Federal Voting Rights Act,” Olson said.

There have been more than 70 such cases brought to the courts by American Indians since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Many of those cases are still being debated.

The authors hope that the book will create awareness about American Indian voting rights and encourage higher participation percentages within American Indian communities.

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