Tester leads charge to improve voter access for Native Americans

Senators introduce Native American Voting Rights Act to establish polling locations, boost voter protections on tribal lands

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Vice Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, today introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act to increase voter protections and access to the polls for Native Americans.

Tester and Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act requiring each state to establish polling locations on reservations upon request from the tribe, including early voting locations in states that allow votes to be cast prior to Election Day. The bill also directs state election administrators to mail absentee ballots to the homes of all registered voters if requested by the tribe.

“Nobody should be denied the basic right to vote and have a say in the democratic process,” Tester said. “We should be doing everything we can to increase access to the polls and remove the barriers that keep too many folks from voting. The Native American Voting Rights Act ensures that tribes are receiving the resources needed to increase the opportunity for folks to cast their ballot.”

“For far too long, Native Americans have had their voices silenced at the voting booth because of unfair rules that often suppress their votes – and we still hear about it happening in North Dakota,” said Heitkamp. “We need to put an end to any form of voter discrimination and our bill would protect the voting rights of Native Americans. Every American should have the equal right to vote and it should be accessible, simple, and fair.”

“For too many Native Americans living in Indian Country in New Mexico and across the nation, simply casting a ballot in an election takes a significant amount of time and effort. Polling places are located hours from home, it’s difficult to get absentee ballots, and tribal IDs aren’t recognized as a valid form of voter identification. These unfair barriers discourage Native Americans from making their voices heard on election day. Our bill would help break down these obstacles so voters across Indian Country can exercise their fundamental American rights,” said Udall.

“No American with the right to vote should have to overcome obstacles and roadblocks in order to access the polls,” said Franken. “The Native American Voting Rights Act will help remove barriers that all too often keep Native Americans from participating in the democratic process. Our legislation will make some of the best practices that we’ve already adopted in Minnesota the norm nationwide.”

“Native Americans were the last to legally obtain the fundamental right to vote in the United States, and Native voters continue to face persistent barriers in exercising that right today. Voters on Indian reservations may be hours away from the nearest polling place. The provisions included in the Native American Voting Rights Act will help ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives have the basic access to elections that most Americans take for granted,” said National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby.

The Native American Voting Rights Act also mandates that all states recognize tribal IDs as a valid form of identification if an ID is required to vote.

The bill expands provisions under the Voting Rights Act to require the U.S. Attorney General to take civil actions to enforce tribal voting protections and supply poll observers to ensure nobody is denied their right to vote if they meet the qualifications under state and federal law.

Many Native Americans live in rural communities and often are forced to travel long distances to the closest polling location. According to the National Congress of American Indians, Native American voter turnout was 17 percent less than non-natives in 2012.

The Native American Voting Rights Act is available HERE.