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ASU Law students work to ensure Native votes count

Dozens of initiative volunteers come from ASU, community.
Project volunteers will work at polling places and on telephone hotlines.
November 7, 2016

Native Vote Election Protection Project aims to help American Indians navigate problems such as intimidation on Election Day

ASU Law student Allyson Von Seggern said she felt like a rookie two years ago working a primary election.

She had recently moved from small-town Nebraska to the Phoenix area for law school. Eager to earn extra credit, she signed on to help with an ASU Indian Legal Clinic voter initiative. But she had no idea what to expect: “It was one of the most painful days of my life,” she said.

Today, thanks in part to hundreds of hours of experience with the clinic, she’s ready to lead a group of about 80 volunteers for the clinic’s Native Vote Election Protection Project, an outreach effort that helps American Indians navigate problems on Election Day.

“We’re out to make every vote count,” Von Seggern said.

Composed of ASU students and dozens of community members, the initiative aims to ensure that Native Americans exercise their right to vote in federal and state elections. The volunteers have been trained to be ready to help with a range of issues, including voter intimidation.

ASU Law professor Patty Ferguson-Bonhee runs the Indian Legal Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, located at the Downtown Phoenix campus. She started Native Vote in response to a 2004 Arizona voter ID law.

Ferguson-Bonhee said that particular law and subsequent others don’t take into account the negative effects on Native Americans and that they often lead to canceled votes, confusion and disenfranchisement.

“Native Americans like to exercise their right to vote,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “In the old days it was obvious why these laws were passed. These days the reasons are different, but it’s still the same result.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Arizona has a bad track record regarding elections. According to her project’s website, Native Americans weren’t allowed to vote until 1948, when the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a long-standing ban on Indian voting. Natives continued to be excluded until 1970 through so-called literacy tests.

Since then, she said, many Native people in Arizona have continued to experience voting difficulties.

“It doesn’t seem like in this day and age there are people out there trying to prevent Native American from voting, but there are,” said Kris Beecher, a first-year law student who is enrolled in ASU’s Indian Legal Program.

Beecher, who is Navajo, worked in the 2014 election. He said he saw many Native voters get disqualified due to newly instituted laws and a lack of knowledge from poll workers. He also noticed something else.

“Many of the poll workers are not Native Americans, and they were on Native American soil and disqualifying potential voters,” he said.

The initiative includes volunteers dispersing to 12 polling sites around the state and others working a telephone hotline.  

Kyra Climbingbear, a first-year law student from Piscataway, New Jersey, said she volunteered because “where I’m from, not many people vote.”

“Arizona has a large indigenous population, and they seem more unified here,” Climbingbear said. “They seem to understand that Native lives matter … you’re only as loud as your voice.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Natives will face many issues on Election Day, which could include providing acceptable forms of identification, problems with confusing ballot language, being placed on a permanent early-voting list (which she said some counties do), being sent to incorrect polling locations, and legal and procedural differences between tribal and state elections.

“Once you secure a right, it’s great, but there’s roadblocks all around,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “Our job on Election Day is to clear the roadblocks.”

Top photo: Director of the Legal Indian Clinic Patty Ferguson-Bohnee touches base with her students during an orientation for the Native Vote Initiative at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on Nov. 1. The initiative was organized by the Indian Legal Clinic and led by third-year ASU Law students. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU experts' prescription for post-election healing: Listen carefully

How to heal the rift after the votes are counted? Don't talk — listen.
November 8, 2016

Hearing the other side and working together can move us beyond a divisive election

Tomorrow the presidential election will be over, and friends, co-workers and family members who have been bitterly divided will need to move forward. But how?

One way is to stop talking and listen, according to an Arizona State University expert on interpersonal communication.

“I think one of the things that gets in the way is that we think that we have to agree with people when all we really have to do is hang in there and make them feel understood,” said Vincent Waldron, a professor of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Social and Behavioral SciencesThe School of Social and Behavioral Sciences is part of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. at the West campus. He studies communication in the workplace and forgiveness.

A New York Times/CBS news poll released Nov. 3 found that 82 percent of those surveyed were disgusted by the state of American politics.

“A lot of anger I hear is from people who feel like they’ve been dismissed and haven’t been taken seriously. That’s a basic need that everyone has,” Waldron said.

Genuine forgiveness might be needed for those who were hurt by the insults hurled during this extraordinarily harsh campaign between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

“Forgiveness is an alternative to revenge,” he said. “You could hold this grudge forever. But we might decide to let it go because other things are more important — our relationship with family members or having a democracy that functions.”

Waldron said that 24-hour nature of social media is fueling people’s anxieties more than in previous elections.

“On social media, people can go to the well again and again and again, to their own little community and see this stuff magnified. It blows up that sense of outrage, and the other side becomes demonized and evil,” he said.

Co-workers will have to move on in a personal way with each other, but the country will have to heal on a national level as well, according to Thom Reilly, director of the Morrison Institute for Public PolicyThe Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a research and community service unit of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. at ASU. He was optimistic that it can happen.

“There’s no question it’s been a divisive election. But the country has dealt with divisive elections before, and we’ve been able to wade through it,” he said.

“Obviously, whoever wins the presidency needs to set the tone from a national perspective by both reaching out to individuals who feel that their issues were not addressed and by following up.”

Reilly sees the surge of independent voters in Arizona as one potential way forward.

“In our research, we found that Republicans and Democrats go to certain news sources that reinforce their worldview, and who they talk to about politics is limited. But independents have a broader range of news sources and a broader range of individuals that they talk to,” he said.

“One-third of Arizona voters don’t want to align with the Republicans or Democrats, and it’s growing. Maybe independents are a way to bridge the dialogue,” he said.

To stave off further divisiveness, Americans who are not alike must gather in peaceful, productive ways to forge bonds, Reilly said, and a system of national service for young people would be one way to do that.

“By requiring every young person to serve in some capacity — military, through a teaching corps or environmental corps — it would bring people together who normally wouldn’t be and put them in places where they could interact and form social and political identities with people who think differently than they do.”

The Morrison Institute is nonpartisan but still tries to address controversial issues with people of differing outlooks.  

“We create safe places where people of different political ideologies can come together to talk,” he said.

“It sends a message that it’s a big tent, and we’ll allow for civil discourse.”

So tomorrow, co-workers who have been on opposite political sides will come together in the workplace with winners and losers.

Reconciliation is next, Waldron said.

“If you’re the winner, don’t gloat. You’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that they already feel bad. This is your moment to be that supportive co-worker and try to make it right,” he said.

“If you’re on the losing side, you have to take the high road,” Waldron said.

“I think it would be a good idea for people who have had conflicts to put it in the past and say ‘Let’s focus on what we can agree on.’ ”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News