'Power of the Native vote' drives a campaign to register Indigenous voters in Phoenix area

SEPTEMBER 21, 2022 — Phoenix, Arizona — The Arizona Republic covers The Phoenix Indian Center’s voter registration drive where VoterRiders’ Danielle Duarte offered information about Arizona’s strict voter ID laws to urban Indigenous voters.

Author: Arlyssa D. Becenti 

Published: September 21, 2022

Danielle Duarte, VoteRiders Arizona Voter ID Coalition Coordinator, explains how her group can help people get the proper identification cards needed to vote. Arlyssa Becenti/The Republic.

The Phoenix Indian Center highlighted the power of the Native vote this week with a voter registration drive for urban Indigenous voters in metro Phoenix. The event was part of a national campaign to register people for the November elections.

In the 2020 election, the power of the Native vote was evident in Arizona after large numbers of Indigenous voters helped turn the state from red to blue in many races, including president. The turnout created a momentum that Jolyana Begay-Kroupa, the executive director for the Phoenix Indian Center, hopes to maintain, especially with midterm elections only six weeks away.

“We saw the turnout of the Native vote,” said Begay-Kroupa. “So we were able to bring out additional team members and they have been organizing a lot of grassroots voter outreach.”

The volunteers were able to talk with community members “about the importance of making sure you’re registered but also explaining why exercising democracy is an important thing,” Begay-Kroupa said.

The Phoenix Indian Center was established in 1947 to provide services to the Indigenous population in the Phoenix area. A 2021 census report revealed that the Indigenous population in the Phoenix, Mesa and Chandler statistical area had reached 208,094.

The center has two civic engagement specialists, Begay-Kroupa said, which is something it’s never had before. While state and county elections are important, so are the tribal elections, she said, which is why during the “Power of the Native Vote” event, the center also registered Navajo voters so they can vote during the upcoming Navajo Nation general elections.

“They are also addressing dual citizenship,” said Begay-Kroupa. “The team is really organizing and moving forward to continuing that messaging of ‘are you registered to vote? Oh, there are tribal elections also.’ So today we are doing Navajo tribal elections registrations.”

Election year: Arizona tribal leaders launch a political advocacy group to encourage Indigenous voters

From school board to governor

June Shorthair is one of the civic engagement specialists at the Phoenix Indian Center and said her job entails working with tribal members who belong to the various tribes and live in Phoenix. The trust formed between the center and those who use it is strong, she said. People who come to the center to get more information on voting and elections are given the details they need to make their own judgment on issues and candidates they will be voting on.

“We talk about local elections from school board all the way up to the state of Arizona governorship,” Shorthair said. “They need to hear all of that, in addition to the dual citizenship of voting back home on the reservations. We hope to see this year, leading into 2024, that the power of the Native vote is now going to be even more visible.”

She hopes to get more 18-year-old voters involved in hopes they will remain active and engaged in the voting process as they get older. Shorthair said a strategic plan is needed, not only for this year, but for years to come so voter turnout among Indigenous voters can stay strong.

“We need to know what civic engagement means to our Native community and understanding how we can guide them to being more involved and making them feel like they are a part of Arizona, part of democracy, and are able to make impactful decisions,” Shorthair said.

Education and getting voters to register is one step. Another is getting people in the position to actually cast their ballot without incident.

Ensuring every voter can vote

Founded in 2012, VoteRiders is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure that all citizens are able to exercise their freedom to vote. VoteRiders informs people about how to secure voter ID and tries to inspire and support organizations, local volunteers and communities to sustain voter ID education and assistance efforts.

Danielle Duarte, VoterRiders’ Arizona Voter ID Coalition coordinator, was at the voter registration event at the Phoenix Indian Center. The group is new to Arizona but she said it is much needed because Arizona is a state with some of the strictest voter ID laws.

Education and getting voters to register is one step. Another is getting people in the position to actually cast their ballot without incident.

Danielle Duarte, VoteRiders Arizona Voter ID Coalition Coordinator, prepares to offer educational materials about Arizona voter ID laws at an Indigenous voter registration event. Arlyssa Becenti/The Republic.

Currently, each Arizona resident is required to show proof of identification. Voters are required to present either photo identification or two forms of non-photo identification.

“Arizona has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country especially when it comes to what types of IDs you can use,” said Durate. “Even certain tribal IDs would need a second form of identification.”

She said she wanted to talk to voters about their tribal IDs,  “and tell them to just in case bring a second form of ID just to make sure their vote is counted because I know they come from very far places just to go vote.”

There are various ways VoteRiders’ can help voters in getting a state ID:

Helping get documents needed to prove identity (a birth certificate or naturalization certificate)

  • A copy of a Social Security card
  • Proof of address
  • Securing the ID itself
  • A free ride to the DMV
  • Making a photocopy of the ID to submit with a vote by mail application or ballot