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Opinion Columns

Carman: Sure the ballot is ridiculously long, but you’re lucky it’s so easy to vote in Colorado

It’s your country. It’s your future. Vote.

Voting in Colorado is easy. With mail ballots, early voting opportunities, automatic and same-day voter registration, voting here is a snap.

It’s so easy, in fact, you’re likely to take it for granted.

Please don’t.

Sure, the ballot is ridiculously long, and you’ve been brutalized by political ads that get exponentially meaner and more dishonest as Election Day draws near. It’s easy to feel exhausted by it all.

Diane Carman

Boo-flippin’-hoo.

You probably don’t realize how lucky you are not to live in Georgia, Florida or North Dakota, where voter suppression laws are widespread and sinister.

In North Dakota, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and other members of the Standing Rock Sioux have had to move a bureaucratic mountain to secure the right to vote this year.

As a result of a law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, voters in North Dakota now must produce photo identification cards that include their names, birth dates and residential addresses in order to vote.

Since most Native Americans living on reservations use P.O. boxes instead of residential addresses, this law effectively, nefariously disenfranchises them.

Or apparently that was the intent.

But it looks like this is one conquest where the white man won’t vanquish the Indians.

Allard explained that the 2.3 million-acre Standing Rock Reservation has never had residential addresses, and everybody knows that.

“If we had them, then the U.S. Postal Service would have to deliver our mail, and they never wanted to do that,” she said. “There’s one P.O. box location on the whole reservation. If you try to have stuff sent to your house, it gets sent back.

“GPS doesn’t work here and, until recently, neither did 911.”

When the courts upheld North Dakota’s voter ID law in early October, tribal leaders realized they had to mobilize quickly to make sure they were not systematically disenfranchised just weeks before the midterm election.

“We had two weeks to do everything,” she said.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

They had to create street addresses for an estimated 30,000 voters across the five reservations in the state, produce photo IDs that include the addresses, update voter registrations and go door-to-door to inform everyone of the process.

This effort was required because, despite assurances by state elections officials that all anybody had to do was call the county to get an address assigned to his home, most counties had zero capacity to accomplish the task.

Sheriff Frank Landeis, the guy responsible for providing street addresses for the thousands of people on the Standing Rock Reservation, is also the only guy available to respond to calls for help and solve crimes in the sprawling county.

“He’s one person. He’s the only sheriff in Sioux County,” Allard said. “He can’t sit by the phone all day. The state gave him no money and no additional people to handle this.”

But, as we all surely should know after seeing their resolve during the dramatic Dakota Access Pipeline standoff, the Standing Rock Sioux don’t give up.

“We need to control our own lives,” Allard said. “We don’t get angry. We get empowered.”

With all the outreach, the voter registration efforts and the GOTV campaign of the past few weeks, it looks like the North Dakota Legislature’s effort to disenfranchise the state’s Native American voters could backfire spectacularly. Tribal leaders are focused on producing the highest voting turnout rates ever on the reservations.

Allard said people have been lined up at the polls to deliver their absentee ballots days ahead of the election. (There’s no early voting in North Dakota except for absentee voting.)

“They tried to limit us to three hours a day, but we insisted that the polls remain open for eight hours,” she said. “My sister’s a poll-watcher, and she says the lines have been long.”

Allard won’t reveal her personal political leanings, but she predicted, “Heidi Heitkamp (the incumbent Democratic U.S. senator) will have the Indian vote.”

Heitkamp’s election six years ago was one of the reasons legislators were determined to find a way to suppress Native Americans’ voting rights.

But Allard said for Indians, the cause is much bigger than any one candidate or issue.

“This is not about politics. We’re only trying to fulfill our rights to vote.

“My grandfathers fought in World War II, my uncles in Korea. My cousins, my brother, all of them fought in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Nobody should stop us from voting.

“We defend our country. The roots grow from my feet into this land.

“This is my country,” she said.

“And I will vote.”

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.@dccarman