Native Americans

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National: U.S. Senators urge the Department Of Justice to protect voting rights in Indian Country | Meridith Depping/KULR

The Department of Justice is being urged by several U.S. Senators to work with tribes to ensure voters in Indian County are not being kept away from voting.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many Tribal polling places are being closed, and 14 U.S. Senators are requesting the DOJ work with Tribal governments to find solutions that do not disenfranchise voters in Indian Country.

“With the 2020 general election fast approaching, there is concern that measures intended to ensure safe voting during the pandemic may make [existing] challenges worse,” a letter sent to the DOJ reads. “Across the country, states are closing polling locations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic…We are deeply concerned that the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Tribal communities will spread to the ballot box via changes in voting procedures that may disenfranchise Native American voters.”

In the letter, the senators ask the DOJ to answer the following questions:

Will the Department commit to working with Tribal leaders and Native American communities to find solutions to problems associated with voting during a pandemic that will not disenfranchise voters?

Has the Department received complaints regarding a lack of polling locations for Native American voters during this year’s primary elections? Please provide reports detailing those complaints and any documents citing complaints that voters were unable to cast a vote due to the lack of accessible poll locations.

Has the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s Indian Working Group engaged with election officials to ensure that Native American voting rights are protected during the upcoming elections? If so, what actions have been taken?

“Voting is one of the most important ways that the American people can ensure their elected leaders are held accountable for their actions and decisions, and we should be doing everything we can to strengthen this right,” the letter goes on to say.

You can read the full letter sent to the Department of Justice here.

Full Article: U.S. Senators urge the Department Of Justice to protect voting rights in Indian Country | Coronavirus | kulr8.com.

Montana: Native American tribes win injunction on vote collection law | Bill Theobald/The Fulcrum

A Montana judge has blocked new state restrictions on the collecting of others’ ballots, a victory for Native American tribes that say their members rely on the help. The law probably violates the tribal members’ right to vote because it would make it especially difficult for them to make sure their own ballots got from reservations and other remote areas to election offices, District Judge Jessica Fehr of Yellowstone County said Tuesday in putting a hold on the requirements. Her injunction, while not final, is nonetheless the latest voting rights victory for people in Indian Country, who say too many election rules disregard their special circumstances and amount to suppression. It’s also the latest turn in the generally partisan battle over so-called ballot harvesting. The American Civil Liberties Union had sued on behalf of several tribes in March, challenging a state law passed in 2017 and endorsed by statewide referendum the next year. It says caregivers, family members and acquaintances can collect no more than six ballots in an election. Proponents say such limits prevent election fraud by preventing partisan operatives from conducting mass collections of mail-in ballots — potentially from both friendly and unfriendly precincts. Read More

Montana: Judge blocks Montana from enforcing absentee ballot law | Associated Press

A Montana judge issued a ruling Tuesday that blocks the state from enforcing a voter-approved law that restricts the collection of absentee ballots during elections. Tuesday’s ruling from District Judge Jessica Fehr came after the Billings-based judge temporarily halted the Ballot Interference Protection Act two weeks before the June primary election. The law passed by voter referendum in 2018 limits one person to turning in a maximum of six absentee ballots. Fehr wrote the law would “significantly suppress vote turnout by disproportionately harming rural communities.” She said Native Americans in rural tribes across the seven Indian reservation located in Montana would be particularly harmed. Read More

Montana: Lawmakers get update on Native American voting in all-mail primary | Jonathon Ambarian/KTVH

On Friday, a state legislative committee got an update on how Montana’s all-mail primary election went in Indian Country. The State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee wrapped up three days of online meetings Friday. Because of concerns about COVID-19, Gov. Steve Bullock gave Montana counties the option to switch to all-mail ballots for the June 2 election – and all 56 counties took that option. On Friday, the committee heard from four election administrators from counties with large Indian populations – Dulcie Bear Don’t Walk of Big Horn County, Tammy Williams of Blaine County, Katie Harding of Lake County and Joan Duffield of Rosebud County. All four counties had voter turnouts at or below the Montana average in the primary, with Big Horn County having the lowest turnout in the state at 35.4%. However, administrators said there were some positive signs for tribal turnout. Bear Don’t Walk said 25% to 35% turnout is typical for a primary in Big Horn County, and that about 44% of those who were mailed a ballot this year returned them. Williams said Blaine County estimated about 30% turnout in reservation areas, but that overall turnout was again on the high end of what was expected. According to Duffield, turnout in Rosebud County’s Lame Deer precinct was 20% this year, compared to 11% and 10% in the 2016 and 2018 primaries. Read More

National: Report highlights voting inequities in tribal communities | Felicia Fonseca/Associated Press

Native American voting rights advocates are cautioning against states moving to mail-in ballots without opportunities for tribal members to vote safely in person. In a wide-ranging report released Thursday, 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. Read More

National: Mail-in voting will suppress Native Americans’ votes in November | Thea Sebastian/The Guardian

Native communities have spent centuries battling for voting rights. Indigeneous Americans couldn’t formally vote in every state until 1957, more than three decades after securing full US citizenship. The campaign against this community persists, including discriminatory policies like voter ID laws and lack of polling locations on reservations. But this November, as lawmakers adapt voting to the Covid-19 pandemic, Native voters face a new hurdle: the reforms that best balance public health and democratic access will disproportionately suppress Native voting. Especially when it comes to vote-by-mail. Households on Native American reservations, like many households in rural America, disproportionately lack mail delivery. In Arizona, only 18% of Native Americans receive mail at home – white voters have a rate that is 350% higher. As Elouise Brown, a Navajo activist and grazing officer, said bluntly: “This vote-by-mail is not going to work. Not for us.” Read More

National: Experts worry push for 2020 mail voting could leave Native American voters behind | Alisa Wiersema/ABC

As many election officials across the country move to bolster vote by mail efforts in their states amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some leaders in Native American communities are worried their voters could be left behind if voting by mail becomes the overwhelming norm for conducting the 2020 election. Their concerns are largely rooted in existing hurdles facing some Native Americans living in rural communities and who, as a result, would not be able to easily access the resources necessary to register and vote in a predominately all-mail election. As outlined by the Native American Rights Fund, an organization that provides legal assistance to tribes and Native American individuals, the potential obstacles range from issues with access to traditional mail services, to a lack of broadband connectivity, and in some cases, cultural communication barriers. Experts also point out that high poverty rates and some states’ voter identification requirements create even more potential roadblocks for Native Americans seeking to cast their ballots. “We’ve tried to point out to people — you got to stack all of these things on top of each other,” Natalie Landreth, a senior staff attorney with Native American Rights Fund said in an interview with ABC News. Read More

National: Native American Rights Groups Are Gearing Up to Fight Voter Suppression in 2020 | Pacific Standard

Native American rights advocates who went to bat against voter suppression and disenfranchisement in last year’s mid-term elections—and championed unprecedented voter turnout—are gearing up to renew their fight in key battleground states ahead of the already fraught 2020 presidential elections. “We are looking at mobilizing five, maybe six states” with significant Native American populations and where there have been concerns over voter access and turnout, says OJ Semans, co-director of Four Directions voting rights advocacy group. Semans is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Last year, Semans worked to ensure Native American voters across the country had access to the polls. Among his group’s successes was the mobilization of an unprecedented number of Native American voters in North Dakota for the 2018 mid-terms. In his preparation for the 2020 elections, he’s setting his sights on Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina. Read More

Washington: Legislature considers removing barriers to voting on reservations | The Spokesman-Review

Washington could remove barriers to registering to vote and casting ballots on reservations, where voter participation is lower than the rest of the state. Committees in the House and Senate on Wednesday considered identical versions of the Native American Voting Rights Act, which would allow tribal members with nontraditional addresses to register and be mailed ballots and allow tribes to request more drop boxes. Problems with addresses and distant drop boxes prevent tribal members from registering and voting, said Alex Hur, who represents One America and Washington Voting Justice Coalition. Read More

Washington: Native American voting rights bill proposed ahead of upcoming legislative session | WNPA

A proposed bill would allow the residential address portion of a voter registration form to be filled out with a nontraditional address. Democrat majority caucus chair, Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, pre-filed SB 5079, titled The Native American voting rights act of Washington. “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,” said McCoy. Read More

North Dakota: Attorney General asks judge to dismiss tribe’s voter ID lawsuit | Associated Press

North Dakota has asked a federal judge to dismiss a Native American tribe’s lawsuit challenging the state’s voter identification requirements, saying in part that tribal members named in the complaint weren’t impeded from voting on Election Day. The attorney general’s office in a Monday filing also argued that the state is immune from such lawsuits in U.S. District Court and that the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe doesn’t have standing to sue for several reasons, including that it’s unclear how the tribe might be affected by the inability of any members to vote. Even if that were clear, attorneys said, the tribe “is not representing the interests of all of its members, merely a select few.” Read More

Arizona: Navajo Nation drops claim that would delay certification of Arizona election results | Arizona Daily Star

The Navajo Nation has dropped a legal claim that could have delayed formal certification of the general election results. But the tribe still contends early voting procedures used in three Arizona counties violate the rights of tribal residents. And an attorney for the tribe, Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, said Monday that unless there is a deal, they will be back in court. At a brief hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Dominic Lanza agreed to essentially put the legal dispute on the back burner. In a blistering statement from the bench, however, the judge blasted the tribe’s attorneys for waiting until this past Tuesday to file suit for a temporary restraining order on a narrow issue that would have delayed announcing a final vote tally for all races statewide. Read More

Arizona: Navajos seek court order to fix early ballots | Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is seeking a court order to allow tribal members to fix problems with signatures on early ballots in Arizona’s general election — a request that could delay the state from certifying ballots next month. Voters statewide were given more time to address mismatched signatures after Republicans alleged in a lawsuit that Maricopa and Pima counties contacted voters illegally after Election Day about signatures on ballot envelopes that didn’t match those on the voter file. A lawsuit filed this week by the largest American Indian reservation makes a broader argument to count ballots that Navajos properly filled out but didn’t sign. It alleges Navajos have fewer opportunities to participate in early voting and not enough translators to tell tribal members with limited or no English proficiency how to complete early ballots so they aren’t thrown out. The tribe said more than 100 votes cast by Navajos were disqualified. Read More

National: Native Americans Voting In 2018 Are Confronting Barriers — And It’s Not Just Voter ID | Bustle

Voting rights organizations are making a final push to get out the vote with just a week to go until the midterm elections. In North Dakota, those efforts have taken on greater urgency because a new voter ID law will be in effect come Nov. 6. Tribes and advocacy groups are on a mission to overcome longstanding obstacles that have hindered Native Americans’ right to vote and ensure their communities have access to the ballot box. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court decided that it would allow North Dakota’s voter ID law to stand. That means voters will be required to present identification showing their street addresses when they vote at their polling place. There’s one glaring problem with that requirement: Native Americans who live on reservations in North Dakota don’t necessarily have street addresses. They typically use P.O. boxes instead, which are listed on their IDs. Read More

North Dakota: Native Americans Try to Turn an ID Law to Their Advantage | The New York Times

Nobody in the squat yellow house serving as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s get-out-the-vote headquarters knew its address. It was on Red Tail Hawk Avenue; they knew that much. But the number was anyone’s guess. Phyllis Young, a longtime tribal activist leading the voter-outreach effort, said it had fallen off the side of the house at some point. Her own home has a number only because she added one with permanent marker. This is normal on Native American reservations. Buildings lack numbers; streets lack signs. Even when a house has an address in official records, residents don’t necessarily know what it is. “We know our communities based off our communities,” said Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn, a Standing Rock spokeswoman and tribal judge. “We know, ‘Hey, that’s so-and-so’s house; you go two houses down and that’s the correct place you need to be.’” Read More

North Dakota: Voter ID Law Could Stop Native Americans From Voting in Key Senate Race | Newsweek

Native American residents of North Dakota have been left scrambling to meet a controversial voter ID requirement that could render many ineligible to vote in the upcoming November mid-term elections. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court declined to overturn the GOP-backed voter law, which requires North Dakotans to show identification with their current street address. As many Native American reservations do not use physical street addresses, the law makes it difficult for thousands of people to cast their ballots. While Native American residents do often use PO boxes as mailing addresses, PO boxes do not qualify as proof of residency under the voter ID law. As a result, many voters will have to make the effort to obtain identification or documents, such as a tribal voting letter issued by tribal officials, that provide proof of a residential address. Read More

North Dakota: Tribes scramble to meet voter ID requirements in North Dakota | CBS

Locating a house isn’t easy on the isolated and impoverished Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota, and that’s making it more difficult for residents and their counterparts on other reservations in the state to vote this election. To cast a ballot, they need identification with a provable street address — something that isn’t important to the 19,000 people who live on the remote 72-square-mile block of land where most streets have no signs. In their culture, they’ve never needed them. Tribal activist Wes Davis, 37, an official at the local community college and a lifelong reservation resident, describes where he lives this way — to the west of a gas station on the east side of town, behind the high school and across the road from another store. Read More

North Dakota: Voter ID Law Could Keep Rural Native Americans From Voting | WBUR

The Supreme Court declined this month to overturn a North Dakota law that requires voters to present an ID listing their residential address at the polls. The decision could have a negative impact on tens of thousands of rural voters — many of them Native Americans who live on one of the states five reservations, where residents are not required to have a street address. Native Americans have long faced unique challenges relating to voter suppression. They were the last to gain suffrage in 1924 and couldn’t vote in states like Arizona, New Mexico and Utah until 1948. Read More

North Dakota: A Look at Where North Dakota’s Voter ID Controversy Stands | The New York Times

North Dakota is home to one of the most important Senate races of 2018, and less than three weeks before Election Day, it’s embroiled in a fierce battle over who will be able to participate. nOn Oct. 9, the Supreme Court allowed a new state voter identification requirement to take effect, meaning North Dakotans will be voting under different rules than in the primaries just a few months ago. The change disproportionately affects Native Americans, and tribal leaders and advocacy groups have spent the past week and a half scrambling. In a recent letter to the North Dakota secretary of state, one group called the state’s current process unworkable and proposed a solution, but the secretary of state would not endorse it. It is an extraordinary situation: the electoral process thrown into chaos at the last minute in a state that will help decide which party controls the Senate. Here’s a look at where things stand. Read More

North Dakota: Native Americans Decry Supreme Court Ruling on Voter ID in North Dakota | VoA News

Civil rights groups are expressing outrage over a recent Supreme Court ruling that could make it harder for Native Americans in North Dakota to cast their votes in the upcoming midterm elections. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against overturning North Dakota’s controversial voter ID law which requires voters to present identification that verifies a current residential street address. Proponents of the law say it will help prevent voter fraud. Opponents say it will prevent many Native Americans from voting. “Addressing on reservations and in rural Native American communities is spotty,” Jacqueline D. De Leon, a member of the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico and an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), told VOA in August. Read More