DINÉ VOTE MATTERS CAMPAIGN
Diné C.A.R.E. is a grassroots non-profit environmental organization on the Navajo Nation. The term “Diné” means “the people” in the Navajo language, and the acronym C.A.R.E. stands for Citizens Against Ruining our Environment. Founded by three Navajo women, the organization is known as the grandmother of the Navajo environmental movement. They often fight toe-to-toe with industry giants by building grassroots campaigns mobilizing local Navajo citizens to protect their homeland from environmental degradation.
Native American Vote
Historically, Native Americans have faced huge barriers when trying to register and participate in elections. Things like language, technology, geography, access, and even lack of having a mailbox are barriers to the Native vote. A report by the Native American Rights Fund notes, “Although many other American voters share some of these obstacles, no other racial or ethnic group faces the combined weight of these barriers to the same degree as Native voters in Indian Country.”
Today, there is approximately 6.8 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States; and like the Navajo people, their population is often concentrated in central areas strengthening their voting power and ability to sway elections in key states and jurisdictions. There are considerable Navajo voters in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah—and this voting block can notably influence elections at all levels of government, from school boards and municipal positions to the state governorship, congressional offices and the U.S. President.
Leading up to the 2020 elections, key environmental issues were at forefront of the political discussion. It was important for Diné CARE to launch the Diné Votes Matter campaign to increase the number of Navajo voters in Arizona, an important battleground state in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.
Campaign goal: Educate 60,000 Navajo voters in three Arizona counties (Apache, Navajo and Coconino), and mobilize them to vote during the pandemic.
Challenge 1: In the 2020 elections the Navajo reservation had the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the world. Political strategists say that door-to-door canvassing is the strongest outreach strategy to get voters to the polls, however, during the pandemic this was not possible on the Navajo reservation due to tribal prohibitions against event gatherings, social distancing requirements, public opposition to face-to-face campaigning and isolation between people. Therefore, Diné CARE employed a strong marketing campaign through television, radio, newspaper and social media because it was the safest and reliable way to meet their overall goal.
Challenge 2: regardless of the pandemic, targeting and reaching a message to 60,000 Navajo voters on the reservation is a challenge. The Navajo reservation is 27,000 square miles with the largest portion in rural Arizona. The reservation is roughly the size of the state of West Virginia. Further, the younger Navajo voters speak English but those most likely to vote are the elderly, who predominantly speak only Navajo. In addition, outside of the larger Navajo communities, access to the internet and television is sparse, so radio and print media are used as key mediums to transmit messages to many in the smaller Navajo communities. And finally, in comparison to other well-funded political groups, the Diné CARE had a modest budget to launch a comprehensive and impactful plan.
Challenge 3: Constraints imposed by social media platforms. Facebook imposed a freeze on advertisements before the election to curb misinformation campaigns from both parties. This created challenges for the team to get our ads on Facebook. Facebook and Twitter also raised the requirements for approving advertisements and postings before and during the election. The bar was higher and it was harder to place our paid video advertisement on Facebook.
The Diné Votes Matter campaign used the following strategies:
Provide voters with registration locations, early ballot request
Provide potential voters with clear, easy-to-understand information on polling sites, both early and election-day ballot locations.
Present targeted messages to urge Navajos to vote and coordinate election day plans to vote with social distancing concerns.
Use practical and trusted communications mediums for the key targets markets (text messaging, radio, television, newspaper and social media).
Employ persuasive cultural messaging targeting Navajo voters.
Leverage earned media gained from paid media.
CAMPAIGN VIDEO AD
The most effective communications channel was through a 30 second video. The 30-second video ran on two platforms: digital video and Facebook. According to data from the digital company, the video had 195,811 impressions in the target area, while the Facebook video had 44,000 plays.
SOCIAL MEDIA ADS
Social Media Posts were created to inform local Diné of the closest voting polls. It was encouraged to share the social media posts with friends and family and use the hashtag #DINÉVOTEMATTERS
Diné CARE completed two advertisements under the Diné Vote Matters headline. The first advertisement had clear information on early voting site dates and locations in Arizona, New Mexico, aUtah, and information on text message registration information. See attachment.
The second full-page advertisement was much more impactful. Diné CARE put out a national call to Navajo voters living throughout the U.S. asking them to send early voting pictures, then created a graphic with a map of the U.S. showing the expansive impact of the Navajo Vote.
The goal was to ignite the excitement of Navajo voters on the reservation by showing this national movement of Navajo voters going to the polls. The advertisement also had links and phone information for precinct information, election protection hotline, text messaging registration information, “Know Your Rights” Election Day information. See attachment.
The Navajo voting-age population must drive long distances extensively during the weekday for work/school/necessities. Often those travelers will drive for more than 4 hours a day. The main radio station to reach this population is KTNN, which is an AM radio broadcast station operating continuously over a clear-channel radio signal at 50,000 watts on 660 KHz. It’s sister FM radio station is KWRK. From October 23 to November 3, Diné CARE ran two advertisements in Navajo and English urging Navajo voters to go to the polls. They ran a total of 32 Navajo ads from Monday through Friday during peak traveling hours, and 8 advertisements on the weekend on both KTNN and KWRK. They ran the same number of English advertisements during that period.
Navajo voters came out and tipped Arizona in favor of President Biden (Dem) which made the difference in the U.S. election. The vote difference in Arizona came from the Navajo votes.
From the Associated Press: “Voters in precincts on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in northeastern Arizona cast nearly 60,000 ballots in the Nov. 3 election, compared with just under 42,500 in 2016, according to an Associated Press analysis of election data. Biden won Arizona by about 10,500 votes, according to unofficial results…Turnout in two of the larger precincts on the reservations, for example, rose by 12% and 13% — and Biden won there handily — compared with a 4% increase among all Arizona voters.”
CNN Political Commentator Von Jones gave Diné C.A.R.E. on-air television credit for the Navajo election turnout which propelled Biden to victory during a CNN broadcast (attached).
“We have seen significant increases in voter turnout. In Navajo county alone there was an estimated 63.6 percent of registered voters in Navajo precincts who cast a ballot in this general election—that is a 10.3 increase in voter turnout since the last U.S. Presidential general election four years ago. Those are not insignificant numbers. We still have questions regarding voting numbers in Apache County, the numbers should be higher than what is being reported by the County,” said Mellor Willie (Navajo), Diné C.A.R.E.’s political consultant from Washington, DC based firm Chee Consulting LLC, after analyzing early voting numbers in 2020.
According to High Country News (2020), “counties like Apache County, which overlaps the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, saw 116% voter turnout compared to the 2016 election.”