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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates will descend on Iowa next week to do something that Native Americans say doesn’t happen enough: court their vote.
At least seven White House hopefuls have said they’ll attend a forum in Sioux City on Monday and Tuesday named for longtime Native American activist Frank LaMere, who died in June. Tribal leaders and citizens will talk with candidates about issues including health care, education and violence against National American women.
Several candidates attending the forum, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro and Marianne Williamson, have issued platforms dedicated to the needs of indigenous people. Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old registered Democrat and a citizen of the Two Kettles Band of the Lakota, said that’s a change from the past when politicians largely overlooked Native American issues.
Many Native Americans live in “hard-to-count” rural areas and are not reflected in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, so the census cannot accurately measure their voter registration as it would for black, white, Asian and Hispanic citizens. Census estimates say Native Americans make up around 1.7% — or 5.3 million — of the U.S. population, and suggest that more than 3.7 million Native Americans are of voting age.
As more Native Americans gain access to the polls, they may be a powerful asset for candidates. Richard Witmer, a political scientist from Creighton University who specializes in American Indian politics and policy, said the Native American vote can swing a close national election.
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