Opinion: Strengthening democracy

Strengthening Democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act, through which America’s First Peoples gained the right to vote. As the First Peoples of a young state, Alaska Natives don’t share that same milestone, but the actions of Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood in 1945 paved the way for all Alaska Native peoples to have the right to vote.

Get Out the Native Vote (GOTNV) is a statewide nonprofit organization housed under Cook Inlet Tribal Council, that as a nonpartisan voter education group works to increase turnout, bridge gaps in voting opportunity, and reduce barriers to voting. This year, GOTNV and the Voter Participation Center (VPC) are working together to alleviate barriers to registering and voting by bringing democracy straight to eligible Alaskans.

While Alaska holds many policies that make voting easy once you get to the right polling location — like with the ability to vote with a Tribal ID, a fishing or hunting license, or an electric bill — our sheer geography and extreme weather can hamper our ability to establish a precinct long before voluntary staffing and postal issues become a factor.

Alaska also enjoys three ways to be automatically registered to vote through popular programs like the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend application or through obtaining a driver’s license or state ID. But not every 17- or 18-year-old can rely on their parent or guardian to file their PFD; not every teen or adult in the state has access to a Division of Motor Vehicles. As a consequence, though we are a powerful part of the electorate in Alaska, a number of systemic, cultural or environmental barriers affect our registration rates and turnout.

This is why GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska. VPC is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded to help eligible voters register and vote.

VPC’s work focuses on the “New American Majority” — people of color, young people, and unmarried women — who are historically underrepresented in the electorate.

Since 2003, VPC has helped to register and turnout over 6.1 million voters in the US. This collaboration between VPC and GOTNV is part of an effort to make voting easier and bring resources to eligible Alaskans.

GOTNV and the Voter Participation Center encourage you to be on the lookout for mail from us. In total, GOTNV and VPC have sent 4,448 voter-registration applications, 2,672 of which were sent to P.O. boxes. This mailing contains the same voter-registration application provided by the state. Those that are eligible can simply use the enclosed state voter-registration form, sign it, and mail in their voter-registration application.

In July, GOTNV and VPC will further send out vote-by-mail applications to voters who are already registered, and we will additionally run mail and digital programs in the fall.

Alaskans will see a more representative government when we are all fully registered voters with a plan to vote in this year’s statewide primary on Aug. 20, the Oct. 1 REAA (school board) elections, and the presidential and general elections on Nov. 5. The Native vote is powerful and can make a difference in our elections. This partnership takes important steps towards lifting up Native voters and making sure our voice is heard in our democracy.

Barbara Donatelli, Yup’ik, is a CIRI and Doyon, Limited shareholder, and is a member of the Get Out the Native Vote board.

Denise Juneau is the board chair for the Voter Participation Center. Juneau is the first Native woman elected to serve as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Montana, the first Native superintendent in Seattle, and the first “out” LGBTQIA federal candidate in Montana.