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GOTNV: Get out the Native Vote targets students

Courtesy of Michelle Sparck

As director of the Get Out the Native Votemovement 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 says, is the lack of incentives for election volunteers. In some communities compensation can be as low as 100 dollars for two weeks of service, not enough to make up-and-coming elections a priority.

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

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

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

Sparck hopes this program gets young people excited to vote and educates them on the power they have in their votes.

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

A super-voter is someone who votes in most, if not all elections in their communities, locally and nationally.

Sparck notes that this program also helps to spark interest among future board members and 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.”

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

With this movement, Spack sees the future of voting in Alaska to be one full of activity for youth and elders alike.

Hannah Bissett is a Dena'ina woman who is currently enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Hannah is pursuing an International Studies degree and is president of two student organizations on campus.