In 2017 and 2018, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition—founded by the Native American Rights Fund—held nine public hearings to better understand how Native Americans are systemically and culturally kept from fully exercising their franchise. More than 120 witnesses testified from dozens of tribes across the country.
The Native American Rights Fund just released the results of that research in the report: Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters.
The report cites a number of voting barriers. Often Native Americans are geographically isolated and have poor or non-existent roads to get to far away voting stations. They also face discrimination. The report recommends Congress pass the Native American Voting Rights Act to address some of these obstacles. “For example, mandating polling places on reservations will cut down travel time and allow Native American voters to cast a ballot in a familiar place free from discrimination.”
Other barriers include homelessness, housing insecurity and the lack of an address. The report recommends that states and state officials “should make sure election activities for Native Americans are equitably funded and establish Native American task forces to ensure Native American citizens are provided equal access to registration and voting opportunities within their states. States should not require a physical address, or proof of a physical address, to register or cast a ballot.”
Still other voting barriers include hard to obtain voter ID requirements, unequal access to online voter registration, unequal access to in-person voter registration, and voter purges. The report asks for help from concerned citizens and activists. They area asked to reach out to elected officials, including their Secretary of State, “to insist upon equitable access for Native Americans by inquiring whether the state has a Native American task force, insist upon voting opportunities on Native American lands, and demand funding for Native American voting and registration opportunities.”
The report also recommends that local election officials reach out to tribes directly, and urges the tribes themselves “to encourage their members to participate in state and federal elections as a way to increase political power.”
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