Cherokees prepare to push Indian vote, not in time for primary

Thursday, January 22nd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The Cherokee Nation is organizing a get-out-the-vote drive ahead of this fall's presidential election, but not in time to make it a factor in Oklahoma's Feb. 3 primary.

The state's largest Indian tribe began making plans this week for a voter participation campaign aimed at federal and state elections, tribal spokesman Mike Miller said.

Similar mobilization efforts in 2000 and 2002 brought ``high turnouts in the areas we concentrated on, especially in rural northeastern Oklahoma,'' he said.

The head of the National Congress of American Indians pledged Wednesday to organize 1 million Indian voters in eight states.

Indian turnout in Arizona, South Dakota, New Mexico, Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan, Oklahoma and California is critical to advancing issues such as health care, education quality and the fulfillment of the nation's commitments to tribes, said Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota.

The 244,000-member Cherokee Nation's drive is separate but has the same goals of the national group, Miller said.

The tribe did not plan any voter drive before the presidential primary, which has been drawing Democratic hopefuls to the state.

In the past, the Cherokee Nation has provided candidates with surveys on issues important to Indians and mailed the results to 100,000 tribal households.

It has registered voters at field sites and arranged for rides on Election Day to ensure the Indian vote is represented.

Voter drives are not new to the Choctaw Nation either, said spokeswoman Judy Allen.

Chief Greg Pyle's letters to tribal members routinely encourage them to participate in federal elections. Tribal leaders also speak at community centers about the importance of members' votes, she said.

``For the most part, our tribal members are registered voters and they will impact any election,'' Allen said.