Voter services factor in Native American turnout

Reduced voter services, timing, lack of knowledge about the Congressional special election, and other factors contributed to low voter turnout in Montana’s Native American communities for the May election, according to Western Native Voice.

Turnout in reservation precincts targeted by WNV averaged 35%, which exceeded WNV’s goal of 30% turnout. Statewide turnout totaled 54%.

WNV’s organizing and media programs helped to increase voter participation in the targeted precincts. The group hired community organizers, registered voters, and encouraged them to vote through text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email and an extensive Get Out The Vote program, which included knocking on doors, ballot collection, and giving rides to the polls.

In 2016 election, satellite voting offices were opened on six of the seven Montana Indian reservations. Multiple polling locations were set up on the reservation and county wide, as they are in all general elections.

In 2017, county election offices reduced or cut satellite voter services and polling locations because of limited budgets and locations.

Some reservations went from four polling locations to one, requiring residents of certain reservation communities to travel over an hour round trip to vote on Election Day.

In communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment, and where owning a reliable vehicle is often uncommon, this distance meant the difference between voting and not voting.

2016-2017 Voter Services Comparison
Satellite Office
Satellite Office
Polling Locations
2016 2017 2016 2017 2016 2017
Crow  8 0  56 0 7 6
N. Cheyenne  12  4  72  24 3  3
Fort Peck 9  4  70  26 4  1
Fort Belknap  10  0  68  0 2  2
Rocky Boy  4  3  28  18 3  3
Blackfeet  24  19  214  175 5  2
CSKT  0  0  0 0 9  9
TOTAL  67  30 508
 33  26

The counties did not expect to hold and pay for a statewide election in 2017. The special election was necessary to replace Congressman Ryan Zinke, who resigned March 1 to become Secretary of the Interior.