US election results: How Native American voters helped flip Arizona for Biden

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Oliver O'Connell
·3 min read
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Allie Young, left, a Diné woman on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, is among a group of Native Americans as they ride on horseback to the polls on Election Day (AP)
Allie Young, left, a Diné woman on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, is among a group of Native Americans as they ride on horseback to the polls on Election Day (AP)

Arizona has been a Republican stronghold for decades — out of the reach of Democrats with the brief exception of 1996 when Bill Clinton won the state.

In 2016 Donald Trump carried the state by four points, but this year Joe Biden pulled ahead and won the state by just 0.3 per cent.

While there are a number of demographic changes at play in the state, one that many commentators are pointing to is the role of Native Americans in the 2020 election.

Between 60 per cent and 90 per cent of the 67,000 eligible voters in the Navajo Nation voted for Joe Biden according to Vox.

Mr Biden’s lead in the whole state is fewer than 11,000 votes.

There were challenges to overcome to get Native Americans to the polls — for example, many of those on tribal lands do not have a physical address, making even registering a challenge.

NPR reported that the Rural Utah Project worked with Google to register 4,000 Native American voters in Arizona by assigning them with GPS coordinates instead of a physical mailing address.

Covid-19 also posed a challenge, so organisers left thousands of voter registration forms in Ziploc bags on doorsteps to avoid potentially passing on the virus.

In May, the infection rate in the Navajo Nation became the highest in the country, creating a crisis so severe that Doctors Without Borders dispatched a team to help.

The latest figures bring the total number of known cases in the Navajo Nation to 12,720 with 595 known deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

To encourage younger tribe members to vote, in October when early-voting was open, thirty-year-old Allie Young organised “Ride to the Polls” in which groups of young Navajo rode up to ten miles on horseback to reach polling stations.

The Navajo were not alone, as other tribes also leaned towards the Democratic Party ticket, including the Hopi, the White Mountain Apache, the Pascua Yaqui, and the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose burial ground was desecrated to make way for Donald Trump’s border wall.

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There are also urban communities within the state’s larger metropolitan centres of Phoenix and Tucson that are thought to have overwhelmingly thrown their support behind the Democratic ticket.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has said that he looks forward to working with the incoming Biden-Harris administration, with whom he has met.

“I appreciate meeting with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Phoenix,” he told Fronteras. “[We had] a dialogue, and I think those types of events really inspired the Native American voters to come out to the polls and cast their votes for change.”

“I reminded them, I said, 'Don’t take the tribal vote for granted,'" Nez said.

Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes were awarded to Mr Biden by the Associated Press and Fox News on election night, but the count continued for days, before finally being called by other decision desks.

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