Published March 13, 2019
Landmark legislation would ensure equal access to the ballot box for Native peoples
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M) 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.”
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), a tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna joined in co-sponsoring the legislation. She said:
“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.