In Election 2020 Natives Need Both Options to Vote: By Mail or In Person

“Native American voting rights advocates are cautioning against states moving to mail-in ballots without opportunities for tribal members to vote safely in person.” F. Fonseca, ICT

Photo- News Service

A polling station on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, North Dakota in 2016.Credit…Stephanie Keith:Reuters


Excerpt: If voting is made ‘easier’ Indian Country will vote – By Felicia Fonseca, ICT

In a wide-ranging report released Thursday, ‘Obstacles at Every Turn,’ the Native American Rights Fund outlined the challenges that could arise: online registration hampered by spotty or no internet service, ballots delivered to rarely-checked Post Office boxes and turnout curbed by a general reluctance to vote by mail. 

‘We’re all for increased vote by mail,’ said Jacqueline De Leon, a staff attorney with the group and a member of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. ‘We’re absolutely against all vote by mail. If there are no in-person opportunities, then Native Americans will be disenfranchised because it will be impossible for some of them to cast a ballot.’

 A few states automatically mail ballots to every eligible voter. Others are drawing up plans to rely more heavily on a mail-in system for this year’s elections amid the coronavirus pandemic and with social distancing guidelines in mind. 

Native Americans are reluctant to embrace the system because of cultural, historical, socioeconomic and language barriers, and past experiences, the report said…Native Americans didn’t become U.S. citizens until 1924, but some states restricted who was entitled to vote up into the 1960s, with laws saying Native Americans who weren’t taxed, who lived on reservations or were enrolled with tribes couldn’t cast a ballot. Southwestern states were the last holdouts…More than one-third of voting-age Native Americans — or 1.2 million people — aren’t registered to cast a ballot, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

‘While advocates have been pushing states to improve access to the polls, they’re also reminding tribal members to register and vote to enact change. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted inequalities in tribal communities, including access to running water, health care and housing. Those disparities won’t improve without electing people to office who understand them,’ the report said.

As the November elections approach, Native American advocates are pushing states to allow voting early, curbside, and at mobile voting stations to reduce crowding. They also want officials to designate hours for voters who are vulnerable to the coronavirus, enact social distancing and provide protective equipment for poll workers.”


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