Pyramid Lake Voters Show Up For Bernie Sanders

Feb 22, 2020

Nevada’s caucuses are now over and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the declared winner, but what was the experience like for native voters? And what did they have to say?

Noah Glick travelled to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Reservation to find out.

There weren’t a ton of people at Pyramid Lake High School on Saturday. Overall, less than 20 people showed up to caucus, with some voters rushing in at literally the last minute.

Justin Zuniga is the caucus site lead. He said of the eight precincts assigned to this site, just two had residents show up in person, and five of them are called “ghost precincts.”

"There may be only one resident in that precinct," he said, "and if they show up, they get one delegate for their vote."

Caucus Site Lead Justin Zuniga hangs up a poster explaining how the caucus math works, during Nevada's Democratic Caucuses on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Credit Noah Glick / KUNR Public Radio

Overall, things went smoothly at the site, with the exception of one glaring issue. Zuniga said the way the state Democratic Party drew the precincts effectively split the community of Wadsworth. Some residents went to Pyramid High to caucus, while others were routed to Shaw Middle School.

"We did have to turn away at least three people who came here to vote. We had some communities that it was divided," Zuniga said.

He said at least one person was not able to get to their site on time. But, having the ability to caucus on the reservation, regardless of turnout, is important to the native community.

"It hasn’t been that long since Native Americans were allowed to vote," said Janet Davis, council member for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

"Some of our ancestors never were allowed to vote. So basically, we’re doing it for them, for those that can’t vote," she said.

In 2016, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Walker River Paiute Tribe sued the state of Nevada and two counties, in order to get polling places on reservations and access to early voting.

So what’s important to her and her community this election year?

"The cuts to federal funding by the Trump administration. A lot of us rely on health care. We have the Indian Education, money provided for that," Davis said. "Other things on our minds is the E.P.A., how he’s changing a lot of those regulations."

The media is allowed to observe the caucus process. Inside the locked gymnasium, participants discuss their preferred candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
Credit Noah Glick / KUNR Public Radio

Participants said the main goal was to defeat President Donald Trump, and like much of Nevada, most threw their support behind Sanders.