Saturday, August 28, 2004

Republicans seek to suppress Native American vote

Welcome to South Dakota, where Republicans tried to impose a poll tax to suppress the Indian vote.

By Tara McKelvey

A plastic sign outside a polling place in Andes Central High School on the Yankton Sioux reservation was clear and concise. "Photo ID required," it read.

The only problem, said Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes, South Dakota, was that the sign was illegal.

Sitting in a conference room decorated with a buffalo skull, hand-sewn medicine bags, and a poster that says "Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome," Asetoyer explains how the law doesn't, in fact, require voters to have a photo ID. If you don't have one, you can sign a personal-identification affidavit.

"The whole issue around denying Indian people the right to vote because they don't have a photo ID puts in people's minds, 'They're not going to let me vote, anyway, so why should I even go to vote?'" she said on June 15, describing what happened at the city election and at a June 1 special congressional election. "It's an intentional act to disenfranchise the Native American vote."

Nobody knows how widespread the problem was on June 1.But at least 21 Native Americans were turned away from the polls because they didn't have a photo ID, says Bret Healy, executive director of the Four Directions Committee, a nonprofit voter-registration organization in Rapid City, South Dakota. He's collected signed statements from all of them.

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