How to Help Your Community Register to Vote

In order to maximize the Native vote, it is critical that American Indians and Alaska Natives actively participate in tribal, local, state, and national elections. To encourage this effort, NCAI has revitalized an extensive national effort to mobilize the Native vote in collaboration with regional inter-tribal organizations, tribal governments, urban Indian centers, and nongovernmental organizations. Unlike other areas throughout the nation, Indian Country can present unique challenges and difficult conditions for voter registration. NCAI has compiled the following suggestions to assist with these challenges:

Before you begin helping individuals to register to vote:

  • Make sure you know the procedures, rules, and deadlines for registering voters in your state and county. Some states may require training for voter registration volunteers. You can find state specific voter registration drive guides from the Fair Elections Center
  • Decide whether paper, online forms, or both will work best for your voter registration efforts, and  gather the appropriate materials (you can typically pick up stacks of voter registration forms at your county election office). 
  • Be sure to consider the language needs of your tribal community; recruit volunteers who are able to communicate in the Native languages of your community.

Register voters and distribute voter registration forms through:

  • Tribal, local, or IHS health facilities: The local IHS facility, for example, is a great place to find people to register to vote. You can take time to educate the voters and recruit volunteers as they wait to be seen by the health care providers. Learn more about the effort to designate IHS facilities as as voter registration sites under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
  • Tribal headquarters: All tribal headquarters should have voter registration materials
    made available to the public in the facility’s high-traffic areas.
  • Local elementary, middle, and high schools: Registering voters at local community schools will give parents and teachers convenient access to voter registration. It also gives you direct access to the newest crop of unregistered voters – high school students who are 18 and older.
  • Tribal agencies: Places like local housing, childcare, or economic development agencies
    are frequented by diverse populations every day.
  • Canvassing: Get-Out-the-Native-Vote (GOTNV) by canvassing door-to-door in your local
    neighborhoods to register people to vote.

Set up a voter registration booth at:

  • Powwows and other community events: Setting up booths at places where your community gathers will give you immediate access to large groups of people.
  • Tribal colleges: Local colleges and universities offer an opportunity to get young people engaged in the political process at an early age. Click here to access the TCU Voter Toolkit. 
  • Post offices: We believe since local post offices tend to receive the most visits at the beginning of the month, this would be the best time for voter outreach.

Helpful hints for a successful voter registration event:

  • Mirror your audience: This includes dressing appropriately for your event and keeping your messaging relevant to the community. This will avoid creating an “us” versus “them” situation; voters will feel more at ease instead of feeling like they are being watched. Keep your messages short and simple with only one or two points. Voting should not seem overly complicated; having too many messages can confuse or irritate the voter.
  • Start your interaction with the question: “Can I update your voter registration?” This is more effective than asking if they would just like to register to vote. If a person says they are already registered to vote, be sure to ask: “Have you moved recently?” An updated registration is just as important as a new one.
  • Get out from behind the voter registration table or booth: Look like you are having fun and keep the conversation positive. If people really do not want to register or are unfriendly, move on.
  • Explain the voter registration process to each voter and make sure to highlight a few key points: Before the voter leaves, look over the form and ensure all required fields are completed and legible. Explain where the form will be delivered, and when they should expect to receive a voter registration card. This is a good time to refer the voter to your state’s election board website or voter portal where they can verify their registration and get more information on upcoming elections. Creating a handout with a QR code can help make sure they don’t forget. 
  • Decorate your voter registration table to attract attention and make your table or booth inviting: If you have access to swag to hand out, such a stickers, candy, buttons, hand sanitizers, etc, this is a good way to start the conversation by inviting people over to your booth. Please note that you cannot offer rewards in exchange for registering to vote, but you can make goodies available to anyone who comes across your booth, regardless of their registration status.  You can find swag at the Native Vote online store.
  • Stay nonpartisan: When doing voter registration, there is one basic rule: Native Vote coordinators and volunteers may not suggest a candidate to support, what party to join, or how to vote. Coordinators and volunteers may not wear a party or candidate’s buttons or apparel. However, they may explain the difference between joining a party and registering without party affiliation.

Sample Voting Registration Script:

For a sample voting registrations script and more, please check out the 2019 Native Vote Tool Kit below.

Native Vote ToolKit