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Redistricting Has Reduced the Power of Native Voters

Native voters were undercounted in the 2020 census, now they aren’t being fully represented in gerrymandered districts.

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) speaks at the event in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on March 10, 2020.

The Native vote has become increasingly influential, with the ability to determine whole elections in several states across the country.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski often credits her win to the Alaska Native vote. The Native vote swung the election for U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, said Jacqueline De León, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund in a briefing panel Oct. 13. During the 2020 presidential election, the Native vote in Arizona came out to give President Joe Biden a victory, the first time in more than two decades that the staunchly red state went blue. It doesn’t end there. Elections in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada, can all be swayed by the Native vote.

“Native American votes are being excluded from the table because there is power in these votes,” De León said.

Historically, the Native vote has been under attack from unfair voting ID laws that disproportionately impact Indigenous communities, to gerrymandering, lack of polling locations in rural areas, and the use of at-large voting systems.

“Across the country, we have seen intentional and purposeful discrimination against Native American communities and we are banding together in order to fight back against that,” De León said. “We are also encouraging Native Americans across the country to get out, push past these barriers in order to vote. The reason that these barriers exist is because of the power and potential of the Native American vote.”

It is now less than 30 days until the midterm election.

The Republican Party was forecasted to gain seats in the House and Senate but the striking down of Dobbs v. Jackson, the landmark case that previously ensured a person’s right to abortion care, has made everything more unpredictable than it already was.

This is the first election with the new redistricted maps using the 2020 Census numbers. An unusual census count considering many Indigenous nations closed their communities to outsiders and tribal citizens who lived outside the community due to the pandemic. It made obtaining an accurate count more difficult to achieve. It is clear that once again, Indigenous communities were severely undercounted.

“In this cycle, there’s been a radical undercount of the Native American population and unfortunately, that just affects redistricting,” De León said. “When you’re drawing the maps, they use the census numbers.”

Redistricting has impacted the Native vote in states like New Mexico and South Dakota. Congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years to give fair representation in Congress. However, gerrymandering or unfair voting systems (like the at-large system) can occur to impact the influence of the Native vote.

It has also affected Indigenous candidates running for office.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, a Kansas Democrat, is in a more competitive district. The change is only slight, as noted by Jordan James Harvill, national program director for Advance Native Political Leadership.

“(Cook’s Political Report) has moved her partisan voter index from a plus two Democratic district to a plus one,” Harvill told ICT. “That’s not drastic and I don’t think it’s actually her biggest issue.”

The partisan voting index shows if a district leans Democratic or Republican compared to the rest of the country. In Davids’ district, it leans less blue, but Harvill said that’s not the problem for her.

Davids’ biggest issue is voter turnout during a midterm election year, which often sees lower voter turnout.

She needs to get as many of the 170,000 voters who voted for her in 2018 to head back to the polls during a midterm election. The year Davids was first elected, in 2018, brought record voter turnout, 53 percent of the citizen voting-age population. This percent is close to reaching a low voter turnout during a presidential election cycle.

The base of Republican voters who will come out and vote in every election for Kansas’ congressional district 3 is around 130,000. Historically, Democratic candidates were only getting about 90,000.

“When we’re trying to think about what turnout might be, it’s incredibly difficult to tell after a redistricting cycle,” Harvill said.

Kansas

Redistricting, inflation, the Dobb’s decision and the president’s low approval rating all have impacts on the election.

In Kansas, voters came out to secure the right to access abortion care. The Cook’s Political Report has Davids’ district as a toss-up, meaning it could go either way. FiveThirtyEight has forecasted also as a toss-up but favoring Davids slightly.

“Sharice Davids is considered a game changer candidate for Victory Fund. She has an EMILY’s List endorsement,” Harvill said. EMILY’s List is the largest women’s political committee and resource in the nation. “She has a ton of institutional support and she is deeply competitive in her fundraising, which is really important right now. She’s going to need a lot of money in that district in order to keep turnout high.”

Davids is running against Republican Amanda Adkins. Adkins has been endorsed by other Republicans including U.S Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, representing New Mexico’s congressional district 2.