Sen. John McCoy Proposes Amendment to the Native American Voting Rights Act

Published April 29, 2019

Democrat majority caucus chair Senator John McCoy has filed a proposal to allow registered voters to fill in their registration form with “non-traditional” addresses. The Native American voting rights act of Washington (SB 5079), bill aims to modify the amount of information required for registering voters under state law.

If the bill is passed, “unmarked homes” like Indian lands and reservations can now be used as addresses. The lawmaker said, “The Washington state Legislature has a chance to rectify historical wrongs with the passage of the Native American Voting Rights Act. In doing so, we will send a loud and simple message to the Native community: We recognize that civic participation as we know it today began with American Indians, and as sovereign citizens of the United States you have the right to have your voice heard at every level of government.”

Senator McCoy, who is a Tulalip tribe member, also mentioned that the bill aims to ensure that “appearance, ethnic origins or history, or any other discriminatory artifices” should not determine a citizen’s capacity to vote.

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SB 5079 is another step towards improving Native American political participation in the country, which has gained traction in recent years. For instance, in an opinion piece by Mark Trahant, he mentioned that more native legislators are being ushered into leadership roles across the country. Therefore, it’s likely that the recent proposal could help increase the presence of Native Americans in the US government, especially as current voting laws seem to favor those who live in urban locations with more traditional addresses.

Moreover, the proposed amendment addresses technicalities that contribute to the low number of Native American voters. According to the National Congress of American Indians, 34% of the total Native American population over 18 are not registered to vote. This is between 5-14% lower than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It’s largely attributed to the relative autonomy of Native American political and cultural life and their geographic isolation, as a significant number of the demographic live in reservations, far from urban settlements.

On Senator McCoy’s home turf in Washington State, there are many areas that are self-sustaining and self-governed. Some of these settlements are far from having your typical Zip code, while other Native Americans prefer to live a semi-nomadic life. It’s in stark contrast to densely populated states and cities. In New York, the country’s most populous metropolis, most citizens reside in spaces that have definite address appellations. Yoreevo details that NYC is notorious for its apartment-living population, 75% of which live in co-ops, and some of them were built decades ago. All of these residential spaces are listed in government records, and therefore the owners are eligible to vote. If and when SB 5079 finally allows non-traditional addresses in the voter registration process, discrepancies between those living in cities and those living in far-flung areas will be reduced.

For more news about Native American representation in the US socio-political landscape, check out other posts in our Opinion Archives.

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