31 Aug 2021
By SCOTT MCKIE BP
Staff with a feather
For years, Native Americans, especially those residing on tribal lands, have questioned unequal access to the vote in federal elections. From a general lack of access to polling stations due to long distances or the refusal of election officials to accept tribal ID cards, complaints have been constant.
Senator Ben Ray Lujan (DN.M.) introduced the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratovich and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA) (S.2702) in the 117e Congress recently helped reduce barriers to voting in federal elections for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and those residing on tribal lands.
In a statement, Senator Lujan said, “This historic voting rights legislation will protect the sacred right to vote and reduce barriers for voters living on tribal lands, thereby attracting more voters into the electoral process. With more Senate co-sponsors than ever before, I am proud of the momentum that is building for this bill. Native Americans’ right to vote must be part of the national conversation. “
Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said in a statement: “We cannot have an inclusive democracy if we do not provide Native Americans with equal access to the ballot. We must remove the systemic and other barriers that Native Americans face when voting and customize our election administration to ensure that tribal communities are not denied equal protection in our democratic process. “
Representatives Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Member of the Ho Chunk Nation, sponsored companion legislation HR 5008 in the United States House of Representatives with co-sponsor, Representative Tom Cole, member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Both are co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
She said in a statement: “Voting is the very foundation of our democracy, but indigenous voters face repeated obstacles at the polls, ranging from considerable distance and uneven hours of operation at polling stations to the polls. lack of voter education. This bill further fulfills our federal trust responsibility to protect and promote the exercise by Native Americans of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. “
Representative Cole said in a statement, “This legislation dramatically improves the tools and resources available to help Native Americans exercise their right to vote, which is especially important for those who live in rural areas.”
According to information from Senator Lujan’s office, some of the key provisions of NAVRA include:
- Provides grant program “to help establish state-level Native American voting task forces to address voting issues unique to Indian country”
- Improves Access to Voter Registration, Polling Stations and Drop Boxes in Indian Country
- Facilitates the addition of polling stations on tribal lands and “adopts factors to be considered when considering whether to add a polling station on tribal lands”
- Requires acceptance of all identification documents issued by tribes at polling stations
- Provides electors without a residential address or mail delivery a means to register, collect and cast a ballot
The legislation already has the support of many Native American organizations across the country. In a statement, John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), said: “Over the past decade, NARF has documented and addressed the targeted and current barriers that Indigenous voters face when trying to vote… NARF strongly endorses this legislation which will create more equitable access for Native Americans. “
S.2702 was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and HR 5008 was referred to the Committee on House Administration and the House Committee on the Judiciary.