Landmark legislation would ensure equal access to the ballot box for Native peoples
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján, along with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, led a group of Senate and House Democrats in re-introducing the Native American Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation that would provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to the electoral process. Udall led the introduction of the Native American Voting Rights Act last Congress.
“For too long, Native Americans have been blocked from exercising their constitutional right to vote,” Udall said. “In 1948 – 70 years ago – my grandfather, Levi Udall, served as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court where he authored the opinion extending the right to vote to Native Americans living on the reservation. He wrote, ‘To deny the right to vote… is to do violence to the principles of freedom and equality.’ I wholeheartedly agree. But with every election cycle, state and local jurisdictions come up with new ways to deny Native Americans equal access to the ballot box. From eliminating polling and registration locations, to passing strict voter ID laws that target Native Americans living on reservations, these undemocratic barriers have blocked many Native Americans from exercising their basic civil right to vote. It is more important than ever that we pass legislation to ensure that the voices of Native communities in New Mexico and across Indian Country are counted, not discounted.”
“Our Democracy cannot succeed unless every eligible American has the opportunity to make their voice heard. Unfortunately, we’ve continued to see barriers erected to stop Americans from exercising their right to vote. And too often, those barriers target Native American voters and other Americans of color, including recent measures that forced strict and burdensome voter ID laws on tribal communities in North Dakota,” said Luján. “By removing barriers for Native Americans to register and vote, we strengthen our democracy. The creation of a first of its kind Native American voting rights task force will ensure that states can bolster and protect the right to vote for Native Americans in the future.”
The legislation would enact key measures, such as increasing Native access to voter registration sites and polling locations, and authorizing tribal ID cards for voting purposes. The bill would also bolster Native voter registration, education, and election participation efforts in tribal communities by authorizing a first of its kind Native American Voting Rights Task Force. Finally, the bill addresses the devastating effects of Shelby County v. Holder by prohibiting states from undertaking discriminatory actions without Department of Justice agreement and government-to-government consultation.
“Our nation’s democracy is founded on the right to vote and the ability of every citizen to participate in that process equally. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles in Indian Country that stand in the way of Native Americans’ ability to vote—from language barriers and burdensome voter ID requirements to the locations of polling places for remote and rural communities,” said Heinrich. I’m proud to support this legislation to provide resources and oversight to overcome those obstacles and ensure equal access to our democracy.”
“Every person who is eligible to vote should be able to participate in our democracy. However, Native American voters face seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the ballot box. During the 2018 election, there were laws on the books that automatically omitted Native American voters from exercising their right to vote by putting restrictions in place to disproportionately disqualify them. This goes against America’s fundamental principles and shows that we need the Native American Voting Rights Act to ensure everyone has equal access to make their voice heard in our democracy,” said Haaland.
Our democracy and our district flourish when more people participate in elections. I am honored to be an original co-sponsor and help lead the Native American Voting Rights Act, which takes critical strides helping to improve and protect accessibility for Native Americans to vote. This includes expanded access to registration sites and polling locations. Moving forward, I will always continue to protect and fight for individuals right to vote,” said Torres Small.
A recent letter of support signed by over 40 voting rights organizations, including the Native American Voting Rights Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union, states: “The Act takes significant steps towards achieving the equal political opportunities envisioned by Frank Harrison and Miguel Trujillo when they bravely sought to exercise their first right of citizenship over seventy years ago.”
“We know the importance of making our voices heard and exercising our right to vote,” said National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel. “As tribal leaders, we often discuss what we can do to motivate our tribal citizens to vote, but one of the problems is that voting is simply harder for our citizens than it is for others. This legislation would help change that, and we hope Congress will move quickly to enact this important legislation.”
In addition to the New Mexico delegation, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Booker (D-N.J.), Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Feinstein (D-Calif), Harris (D-Calif.), Hirono (D-Hawaii), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.), Schatz (D-Hawaii), Schumer (D-N.Y.), Smith (D-Minn.), Tester (D- Mont.), and Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Davids (D-Kan.), Gallego (D-Ariz.), McCollum (D-Minn.), Cole (R-Okla.), Nadler (D-N.Y.), Cohen (D-Tenn.), O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Huffman (D-Calif.), Moore (D-Wis.), Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Torres (D-Calif.), Soto (D-Fla.), Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Ruiz (D-Calif.), Bass (D-Calif.), Khanna (D-Calif.), Aguilar (D-Calif.), Sewell (D-Ala.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Carbajal (D-Calif,), Kilmer (D-Wash.), Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Omar (D-Minn), Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Kuster (D-N.H.), Raskin (D-Md.), Sires (D-N.J.), Case (D-Hawaii), Smith (D-Wash.), Lieu (D-Calif.), DeFazio (D-Ore.), Peters (D-Calif), Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Jackson Lee (D-Texas).