DemLabs blog

A gathering of Native Americans around a drum.

Five million Native Americans live in battleground states such as Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada and North/South Dakota. They could have a big impact in the midterms - if they voted. But voting rates on reservations are low given the long distances to travel, limited mail services and poor internet access.

It's a challenge: how do you persuade people to vote when you're tight on funds and they're hard to reach - and geographically dispersed? A new project uses public service announcements on a reservation's radio station to get listeners to respond via SMS and join a voter mobilization drive.

Only 10 percent of Indian Country has access to broadband Internet service. For example, on the Navajo Nation — an area about the size of Ireland — only about 20 percent of the population has access to broadband or 4G cellphone services, making radio vital to tribal members.

OJ Semans knows the challenges of mobilizing voters on reservations from years of experience. He's the Co-Executive Director of Four Directions Inc., a Native American voting rights advocacy group that works to ensure early voting locations on reservations. It needed a means to reach people on the reservation quickly, and cost-effectively. Radio ads were an appealing option to reach residents as tribal members spent a fair amount of time driving every day, but how could the ads start an ongoing dialog to persuade potential voters?

Four Directions and DemLabs have teamed on project at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. A talk show host on the reservation's radio station asks listeners to text in what issues are important to them. The  respondents' phone numbers are saved in an opt-in SMS system with Strive Digital. Organizers later send personalized texts from this database to encourage people to register to vote and make sure they have the correct voter IDs.

Learn more about organizing on Native American reservations here and how to use radio ads with SMS campaigns to mobilize hard-to-reach voters here.


Co-Founder, DemLabs

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.