September 24, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - What is being described as the “largest single coordinated statewide voter registration effort for Indian country and tribal communities in Oklahoma” will be taking place this Tuesday, September 25, as part of National Voter Registration Day. Lawyers, law students, and other volunteers will staff locations throughout the state to register voters at the headquarters of various tribes, including the Kiowa Tribe (Carnegie), the Comanche Nation (N. Of Lawton), the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes (Concho), the Osage Nation (Pawhuska), the Wichita & Affiliated Tribes (Iscani Housing-Anadarko), and the Muscogee Creek Nation (Okmulgee), as well as two urban locations at the Oklahoma City Indian Health Clinic and at Norman’s University of Oklahoma College of Law.
The Oklahoma Indian Bar Association (OIBA), a statewide group of attorneys and law students in Oklahoma, is joining in a greater nationwide effort, coordinated by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) referred to as "Native Vote” which is a non-partisan effort aimed at helping citizens register and exercise their right to vote. This year the OIBA has also joined with the non-partisan National Voter Registration Day effort in which hundreds of voter registration drives are being held across the entire United States, all on September 25th.
According NCAI’s Native Vote Action Week Initiative, additional tribal communities in Oklahoma including the Sac & Fox Nation Behavorial Health Services, Miami’s Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, Okmulgee’s College of the Muscogee Nation, Shawnee’s Jim Thorpe Academy, and Muskogee’s Bacone College are also hosting similar registration events on their own next week on September 25th or 26th.
“We are not a partisan group, nor are we backing any candidate or platform, but rather, hope to assist any voters who want to register for the first time, update their address, or request an absentee ballot, through these registration drives” said attorney Arvo Mikkanen, president of the Oklahoma Indian Bar Association. Historically, for a variety of reasons, the registration levels and voting turnout of Native Americans has been among the lowest of any group in the United States. “We hope to help change that statistic by making it easy for those in rural and tribal communities to get registered and exercise their right to vote,” said attorney Joseph Williams, co-chair of the OIBA’s Election Protection/Native Vote Project. Registration forms will be available to anyone, regardless if they are a tribal member or not.
“Oklahoma’s new voter ID laws may also be unfamiliar to some, since people will have to have a photo ID with an expiration date or a voter registration card in order to vote this year, which is a new requirement,” said Mikkanen. While tribal issued IDs are mentioned in Oklahoma’s law, it also requires that an ID have an expiration date after the election and a photo. With the exception of new Cherokee Nation IDs, none of Oklahoma’s tribal governments have IDs with expiration dates and many do not have photos. “Tribal enrollment IDs generally do not have expiration dates, because its like having an expiration date on your blood type... it doesn’t change over time,” he explained. As a result, the vast majority of tribal ID cards likely will not qualify as a valid ID for voting purposes.
“We are urging people to remember to bring an unexpired state or federal issued photo ID to the polls this year. If a voter does not have one, they can use their voter registration card or if they have lost it, ask their county election board to send them a new one in the mail as soon as possible so they have it in time for election day on November 6,” said Williams.
“We also want to target persons who are in a nursing home or hospital or those who have felony convictions who may think they cannot exercise their voting rights. Any registered voter unable to make it to the polls can vote absentee by mail if they request a ballot ahead of time and felons can vote if the period of time equaling their original sentence has expired or if they have been pardoned,” said Cherrah Ridge, one of Oklahoma’s NCAI Native Vote Coordinators.
For those wanting more information on locations of where to register to vote on National Voter Registration Day, September 25, 2012, go to www.nationalvoterregistrationday.org. Voters may also consult the OIBA's Website at www.oiba.net which has links to the state election board and other voter resource pages, like NCAI’s www.nativevote.org. The 1-866-OUR-VOTE toll free number can also provide assistance to voters.
Oklahoma Indian Bar Association
Post Office Box 1062, Oklahoma City, OK 73101