Montana: Indians, Students Targeted for Voter Suppression

( – promoted by navajo)

Which, in a way, is good news.  It means Montana is still in play.  It means that the Republicans are feeling vulnerable, and playing desperate defense, even in the supposedly safe Republican stronghold of the Big Sky Country.  Reported in AlterNet:

More than half of the challenged registrations were in Missoula, where the University of Montana is located, and where the 3,400 targeted voters is equal to 5 percent of the county’s voters, said Matt Singer, CEO of Forward Montana, a progressive voter advocacy organization. The other registrations were challenged in Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge, Glacier or Hill Counties.

It should surprise no one that these efforts are focussed on college towns and Indian reservations.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Montana law does allow voters who have moved within the same county to update their addresses up to and including Election Day.  So, for example, college students who are in a new dorm on the same campus wouldn’t be affected, despite the apparent Republican saber rattling:

The Republican challenges were based on the Post Office’s national change of address directory, Singer and other voting rights activists said. The Republicans used the directory to identify people who may have registered to vote while living at a previous address, such as students who moved from year to year. Registration information must contain current residences or people can be barred from voting.

The Montana Republican Party did not comment on this story.  Speculation is afoot that they might sue to remove the names of those 2000+ in-county voters in Missoula from the voter rolls, regardless what the law says.  And updating those addresses requires a trip to the county courthouse once the registration deadline has passed.  This kind of thing is a public nuisance, and the very thought that Republicans think they need this kind of thing is, at least in part, good news.  After all, it means that Montana is not entirely out of contention.

NM Side Note:  Here in New Mexico, it’s hard to imagine how such a challenge could work, because most of us don’t get mail at our homes.  You could change your mailing address while continuing to live in the same place, which would make you still eligible to vote there.  Or, you could move and keep the same mailing address, which would make you not turn up on the Republican lists to challenge the vote.  I’ve been working on Vote Builder records for a few northern New Mexico counties.  And all I can say to the Republicans who want to sort it out – good luck on that!!

Unlike some states, Montana’s voter registration is not until Monday, October 6.  So there’s still time to get those registration corrected.  And volunteers are busy around the state this weekend.  (True in New Mexico, too, where Tuesday, October 7 is the registration deadline.)

Voter Registration


Democrats, and the Obama campaign, are not taking this sitting down.  There are active voter registration efforts still underway, with this weekend as the final push.  From Native American columnist Jodi Rave in today’s Missoulan:

Betty Cooper, a Democratic campaign organizer on the Blackfeet Reservation, said she sent a volunteer to “enemy territory” on Thursday to register Native voters living among the Republican majority in Cut Bank.  Cooper said she will not be easily dissuaded by the Republican Party’s move this week to challenge the eligibility of 6,000 voters in six state counties, two of which include the Blackfeet and Rocky Boy’s reservations.  “We’re well aware they are watching us no matter what we do,” said Cooper. “We’re just trying to get people registered. It seems like for Indian people, the only time we have a voice is when we vote. If we can get all our people to vote, there’s not much the Republicans can do to us.”

Native Americans tend to register and vote in fairly low numbers, probably due to a lack of enthusiasm in the dominant culture or confidence in Washington.  Cut Bank, where Betty Cooper is organizing, is also the home to Eloise Cobell, the tough organizer of class action litigation against the feds for failing to account for (and pay!!) monies owed to Native American landholders for leases, logging, and extractive activities.  Estimates of money gone missing and unaccounted for range into the billions, and date back to the 1800s.  This, sadly, is how the feds exercise their “federal trust responsibility” for tribes, spanning three centuries now.  Jack Abramoff may have ripped off some tribes, but he was hardly the first.

When Native Americans then do vote, it is overwhelmingly Democratic.  So they are a important reservoir of support for Democrats.  Pine Ridge Reservation – also known as the location of the infamous Wounded Knee – credited, for example, with the margin which elected Democratic Senator Tim Johnson in South Dakota back in 1996.  The top two precincts in New Mexico in 2004 were Jemez Pueblo and Taos Pueblo, both casting well over 90% of their votes for Kerry/Edwards.

From Kevin O’Brien, Montana Democratic Party spokesman:

“What we’ve seen in the last 24 hours is so desperate and the worst type of politics,” O’Brien said. “It’s incredibly upsetting. All our voter protection folks are looking at this with huge concern – folks who work with county clerks and the secretary of state’s office – to guarantee that attempts like this that keep people from voting don’t come to fruition.”

But, like Betty Cooper in Montana, the response is just to go to ground.  Work extra hard this last weekend and not give an inch.  In addition to Montana, native-targeted voter registration is underway in Wisconsion and New Mexico.  (I’d guess in the Dakotas, too, though the article doesn’t mention it.)  Even me, complete with a not-fully healed injured foot, has been recruited to canvass for voter registration at Taos Pueblo this weekend.

Anyhow, there’s lots of other states where voter registration continues through this weekend (or later).  Check out slinkerwink’s comprehensive diary on the subject posted Wednesday.  Get out and help register voters yourself, or at least confirm that your friends and families in those states are registered.  Don’t forget to follow up with Americans overseas, too.

And if you are in Montana, or New Mexico, or similar states where this is the last weekend to register?  It’s time to get all hands on deck for this final push.  The ground game’s gonna win it for us.  So, let’s get to it!

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