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‘The Fraud Has Been Institutionalized’: Inside The Partisan GOTV Efforts In Indian Country


Last week, I reported on a coordinated and completely illegal votes-for-cash scheme in tribal areas of Nevada, spearheaded by a group called the Nevada Native Vote Project, which is part of a larger effort called Native Vote funded by the National Congress of American Indians, or NCAI.

Under the guise of a get-out-the-vote campaign, these nonprofit groups were bribing tribal members to vote, offering them gift cards, electronics, and other “prizes” in exchange for proof that they voted. They documented these efforts through their own social media channels, either unaware or unconcerned that what they were doing directly violates federal election laws.

But it turns out the Nevada Native Vote Project is just one of many supposedly nonpartisan organizations engaged in vote-bribing and illegal electioneering, all under the thin guise of GOTV campaigns. Similar efforts in as many as a half-dozen other states, including every major battleground state, were undertaken by groups that worked hand in hand with the Biden campaign to deliver votes for Democrats.

These GOTV Campaigns Are Openly Partisan

One of these groups is called Radicalize the Vote, a “GOTV campaign, led by indigenous womxn, that is building a unique, centralized indigenous registration list to get out the vote in record number during the COVID-10.” The campaign is a partnership between NCAI-funded Native Vote and an organization called Seeding Sovereignty, which describes itself as “an Indigenous-led collective,” that “works to radicalize and disrupt colonized spaces through land, body, and food sovereignty work, community building, and cultural preservation.” Seeding Sovereignty and Radicalize the Vote appear to share staff.

Although claiming to be a nonpartisan group, Radicalize the Vote was remarkably open about its opposition to President Trump, posting a photo on its official Instagram page that read: “Every Trump sign is a desperate plea for toxic white supremacy to be seen and validated. It should remind you how fragile and threatened colonizers feel knowing their beliefs are dying an unremarkable and pitiful death.”

Another Radicalize the Vote post showed a photo of Ivanka Trump and law enforcement officers with the comment, “Halloween was scary. #vote #vote #vote #vote.”

In another post, a member of the group’s “digital youth street team” explains why she’s voting: “I’m voting for Breonna Taylor, who doesn’t have the opportunity to vote this year but whose voice needs to be heard. I’m voting for the babies in cages at the border. I’m voting so that our lands and waters will be protected for generations to come.”

Radicalize the Vote also posted an interview with Rep. Deb Haaland, in which the New Mexico congresswoman goes on at length about the importance of electing Biden and how great the Biden campaign’s policies are on things like climate change and health care. As Haaland talks, two Radicalize the Vote staffers nod along in agreement.

It also appears that Seeding Sovereignty is sympathetic to the goals of anarchist and Antifa groups, in one case giving a shout out on its Instagram page to a group called the Black Rose Anarchist Federation: “Social Movements have a long history of success and Empires have fallen before. All of us carry valuable tools for revolution. Plug in where you are needed! Thank you”

This Was A Coordinated Effort Nationwide

The creation and funding of groups like Radicalize the Vote seems to be just one part of a larger, highly coordinated effort to deliver Native votes for the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign. In some cases, these efforts received indirect assistance from state lawmakers and election officials.

In Nevada, the state legislature not only expanded voting by mail, sending ballots to every eligible voter whether he or she requested one or not, it also passed a law in August that allowed for nearly unrestricted ballot-harvesting of absentee ballots. The new law allowed non-family members, community health representatives, political parties, community organizers, and groups like Radicalize the Vote and the Nevada Native Vote Project to pick up absentee ballots from voters in tribal areas.

In Arizona, which Trump lost by three-tenths of a percentage point, Secretary of State Kate Hobbs’ office set up special online voter registration URLs for select nonprofit groups back in May. The stated goal was to increase voter registration, but the online registrations were heavily promoted by left-wing groups like Native Vote. The special URLs were only given out to a handful of nonpartisan groups, including the Phoenix Indian Center, which in turn amplified GOTV messaging from Native Vote on its Facebook page.

These kind of interlacing efforts were ubiquitous in the months leading up to the election. Official Democratic Party events in Arizona routinely featured the same Democrat speakers as Radicalize the Vote teleconferences—namely, Haaland and actor Mark Ruffalo, but also official Democratic candidates like Paulette Jordan, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and a former Idaho state legislator who ran and lost against GOP incumbent Sen. Jim Risch.

The Biden campaign also worked closely with Native Vote and Radicalize the Vote, promoting the latter through its “Natives for Biden” social media account and often showing up to distribute campaign swag at polling precincts in cooperation with Native Vote and the Nevada Native Project.

These efforts were part of a concerted outreach strategy by the Biden camp, which in July hired Clara Pratte, former chief of staff for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, as “tribal engagement director” for the campaign.

The effects of all these efforts are hard to quantify and, like voter fraud itself, harder still to prove. But it’s obvious that an entire network of Native advocacy organizations, together with left-wing activists groups and the Democratic Party, worked together to deliver votes for Biden under the pretext of running GOTV campaigns.

And it appears to have helped, especially in swing states like Arizona where voter turnout on tribal lands surged compared to 2016. Pratte told the Associated Press that Biden’s razor-thin victory in Arizona couldn’t have happened without the Native vote, and as a reporter for the Arizona Republic noted on Twitter, a side-by-side comparison of tribal areas and election results shows that Native communities across the state overlay almost perfectly with areas that voted Democrat.

It’s the same story in Wisconsin, another key battleground state that Biden won by less than 21,000 votes. Native Americans make up about 1.2 percent of the state’s population, or about 70,000 people, so their votes really matter—and might have been decisive.

Although there isn’t accurate exit polling of tribal areas statewide, places like Menominee County can be seen as a bellwether. The border of the county traces the Menominee reservation, whose inhabitants are 90 percent Native. Biden took Menominee County 82-13. In fact, Biden won all seven Wisconsin counties with large Native American populations.

This Is A Crisis That Can’t Be Ignored

It’s undeniable that groups like Native Vote and Radicalize the Vote, supported with funding from the NCAI, have had an outsized effect on the presidential election. It’s also undeniable that they were flagrantly violating federal election laws and acting not as nonpartisan organizations just trying to increase voter turnout, but arms of the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party.

Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, a group that’s been advocating for accountability and transparency in elections for a decade, told me that this sort of illegal activity has been going on for years. The difference is that drastic changes to mail-in voting, enacted in the name of the pandemic, caused “the dam to burst in 2020.”

The groups that pushed for mass mail-in voting this year, Engelbrecht added, are the same groups that have been suing states for years to prevent them from updating voter rolls. Once you expand mail-in voting with corrupted voter rolls, and then allow ballot-harvesting on a mass scale, it’s like “harvesting fog,” says Engelbrecht. “The fraud has been institutionalized, and we’ve been desensitized to it.”

At a time Trump’s legal team is distracting the country with exotic and implausible theories that Dominion and other shadowy forces stole the election though high-tech vote switching, not enough attention is being paid to the very quotidian and all-too-familiar forms of illegal electioneering and ballot fraud that are right in front of us.

These things happen every election season, of course. The only difference is that this time they happened on a mass scale, in broad daylight, sometimes with the cooperation of state officials. It doesn’t necessarily mean the election was stolen from Trump, but it does means something perhaps worse: unless we fix this, Americans will never trust our elections again.