Get Out the Native Vote focuses on Alaska students

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Get Out the Native Vote Alaska organizer Michelle Sparck (Courtesy Michelle Sparck)

As director of the Get Out the Native Vote movement in Alaska, Michelle Sparck has her work cut out for her. She is currently traveling to schools to get to the root of the problem.

“The only real problem and barrier to voting is Alaska’s idiosyncrasies and a low recruitment and retention record,” Sparck said.

One of the challenges, Sparck said, is the lack of incentives for election volunteers. In some communities compensation can be as low as $100 for two weeks of service, not enough to make up-and-coming elections a priority.

On top of that, she said the ability to vote early is somewhat inaccessible to individuals who live in rural areas, requiring travel to urban hubs like Anchorage.

“So what we are trying to do is to make communities more aware of different ways they can contribute to the election process,” Sparck said.

RELATED: White House releases report on Native American voting rights

That starts with getting students interested in voting rights and advocacy and paying them, as they train and work for the group.

Sparck hopes the program gets young people excited to vote and educates them on the power they possess in a democratic society — especially if they vote frequently.

“These kids know the value of their vote before they’re even 18, and hopefully we’ve planted the seed for a new generation of super-voters,” she said.

Sparck said the program also helps to spark interest among future GOTNV board members as well as elected officials in serving their communities, which will help to create momentum.

“The adults will start to realize that they need to step up to be able to chair and supervise the youth workers,” Sparck said. “And the youth’s enthusiasm will get them to realize the value and power of their vote and turnout too.”

According to Sparck, GOTNV has a ripple effect she hopes will turn into waves of new voters. In the past, when there’s been strong Native turnout, the Native vote has helped push several candidates over the top — especially in closely contested races.

Sparck sees the future of voting in Alaska to be one full of activity for youth and elders alike.

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