Building access for ND’s tribal voters focuses on communication, data

Submitted Photo In addition to legislative seats, North Dakota will see Native American candidates running for county-level seats and school boards this year. Photo from Adobe Stock.

Ahead of North Dakota’s June 14 primary, a civic engagement group is crunching numbers and maintaining talks with county and state election leaders in hopes of expanding access for Native American voters now and in the future.

A record number of Native American candidates are seeking various offices in North Dakota, including nine for legislative seats.

Nicole Donaghy, executive director of North Dakota Native Vote, said their latest work involves creating maps and compiling data that measures the cost of voting for those living in tribal areas with limited polling sites.

“We really want to draw that picture of how these decisions are made without the communities in mind,” said Donaghy. “And so, what stands out is that there is a cost to voting when you have to drive 40 miles one direction in order to get to the polling place.”

This effort is still taking shape, but she says they eventually want to illustrate how the economic burden to cast a ballot affects turnout.

Meanwhile, her group recently took part in a meeting of county auditors and has been in touch with state election leaders. Donaghy said it helps in boosting awareness for things such as a voter ID event recently held on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Donaghy said issues such as education, the lingering effects of the pandemic and longstanding barriers in accessing quality health care are on the minds of Native voters.

In the end, she said she feels many in these marginalized communities are still just trying to get a sense of whether policymakers are actually listening to what they have to say.

“People want to be in the know,” said Donaghy. “People want to know what’s happening. Why should we vote? Why should we vote for this candidate?”

North Dakota Native Vote recently hosted an online candidates forum featuring Indigenous candidates for the state Legislature.


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