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Montana Indigenous group creates app to increase voter turnout 

Mark Moran

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(Big Sky Connection) A Native American advocacy group is making a big push to get out the Indigenous vote in this year's elections.

It is hiring field organizers across the state and turning to technology. Western Native Voice calls its initiative "No Vote Left Behind in 2024." The group is hiring 14 part-time organizers, on reservations and in urban areas.

Sami Walking Bear, outreach and field director for Western Native Voice, said the group hires locally, so the organizers will be trusted members of Montana's seven tribal communities. She explained they will encourage people to exercise their right to vote, as historically, tribal voices have been underrepresented.

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"We've never been promoted to use that voice in any schooling or upbringing," Walking Bear pointed out. "It's our civic duty to vote. It affects everything in our daily lives; policy, funding."

Registering to vote requires someone to have a physical address, and many places on tribal reservations do not have them. Western Native Voice is creating an app using online geographical location coordinates to create a physical address, in an effort to increase voter registration numbers.

The geolocation codes are the same ones used to create a so-called 911 address, which rescue crews use to respond to emergencies. Walking Bear pointed out codes will also allow people who are homeless to register to vote, because they will have a physical address. She added the geocodes will assist the communities in other ways.

"Eventually what we're hoping is that this data will be able to help the tribes finish their 911 mapping," Walking Bear emphasized. "(We will) assist in any other way we can with this data and the resources we have."

Between increasing "boots on the ground" in local communities and using the app, Western Native Voice hopes to turn out a record number of Montana's Indigenous voters in this year's elections.