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Learning experience at heart of tribal voter initiative
10 November 2004

BISMARCK, ND - Students at United Tribes Technical College formed a core-working group in the tribal voter education project for the 2004 General Election.

      Sixteen students in the college's Tribal Management Program helped plan, organize and conduct voter education and outreach for the North Dakota Tribal Voter Education Project. The experience engaged students in the electoral process.

Roy Packineau and Tony Ammann
Tribal Management students Roy Packineau, left, and Tony Ammann staffed the information desk for the "Rock The Vote" voter education program.

      "I'm very proud of what our students accomplished," said Bobbi Jo Zueger, Chair of UTTC's Tribal Management Program and coordinator of the voter project in North Dakota. "This was one of those real world learning experiences for students that had a useful result."

      The project was aimed at helping voters participate more fully and with greater ease in the General Election. Tribal voters tend to participate less frequently in state and federal elections than they do in tribal elections. The project was funded with a $53 thousand Help America Vote Act grant from the North Dakota Secretary of State's office. UTTC administered the grant and served as the hub for the North Dakota project.

      Under Zueger's supervision, student coordinators at UTTC linked with counterparts and student teams at tribal colleges located on North Dakota's five reservations. Margaret Stevens coordinated with Elaine Guy at Fort Totten through Cankdeska Cikana Tribal College to reach voters at Spirit Lake. Sara Iron Lightening paired with Julie Dejarlais at Turtle Mountain Community College. Nelson Ute worked with Greta Simon at Sisseton Wahpeton Community College. And Terrance Medicine Crow coordinated with Ron Yahoblit at Sitting Bull College on Standing Rock.

Student signing up during rally
Karlys Turns Plenty, a student in Health Information Technology, signs up during the "Rock The Vote" rally. Staffing the desk are student coordinators Margaret Stevens, right, and Sara Iron Lightening.

      Zueger herself coordinated with the Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara Nation through Roger White Owl at Fort Berthold Community College.

      Students were provided training about revised state election laws, voter identification requirements, voting equipment, and voter education and outreach. Eighteen UTTC students, including members of the Student Senate, attended and completed a leadership class about voting issues.

      In September and October, students on all the campuses conducted campus voter pledge drives. They distributed voter information such as Voter Bill of Rights and Voter Identification bookmarks from the North Dakota Secretary of State's office. They held voter education rallies and mobilized voters on Election Day by providing rides to the polls. At some locations, the students also recruited or served as poll watchers.

Organizing transportation to polls
"I can give you a ride to where you vote," said voter project coordinator Bobbi Zueger on Election Day to Josie Bingen, right, a Nursing Program student. And off they went in a UTTC van, along with Angeline Feather (Nursing Program) and DeVonna Picotte (Office Technology) at rear.

 

      Overall, the effort was supplemented with voter education announcements on tribal radio stations and in tribal newspapers. All the efforts were conducted in a non-partisan way.

      "We know we had an impact on voters because they told us," said Bobbi Jo Zueger, Tribal Voter Education Project coordinator. "One person on our own campus said she hadn't voted in an election since Hubert Humphrey was on the ballot. And she went to vote because she attended our Rock The Vote event."

      According to Zueger, another positive outcome was that students became familiar with the voting process. When it came time to vote, she said, they were confident about their ballots and fulfilling their citizenship duties.

      Students from tribal colleges in Montana and South Dakota were also involved in voter information and education. In South Dakota the effort focused on voter registration. According to a report from the Rural Ethnic Institute, an organization involved in voter education for the past 20 years, over five thousand new Native American voters were registered. The report said South Dakota experienced the highest Native American registration since 1996.

      The Rural Ethnic Institute reports that South Dakota experienced a 67.2 percent Native American voter turnout, an all-time record. A report about the Native American voter turnout in North Dakota will be ready by December 1.

 

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