Will Natives Get a Fair Chance to Vote in 2016? Not According to Many Lawsuits
The voting rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives have been eroded or ignored since the United States Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, according to charges in numerous lawsuits brought by tribes throughout Indian country in the battle to protect Native suffrage. A review by ICTMN has found that major litigation is pending all over the electoral map in key voting districts, in which tribes allege that state and local municipalities have imposed a litany of restrictive legislation and tactics aimed at denying Indian voters full access to the electoral process.
— In Utah, the Navajo Nation has brought suit against San Juan County, the state’s largest, for gerrymandering the county’s districts to lessen the impact of the Native majority; a second suit by the nation claims voting access was unfairly restricted, with some Navajo driving upwards of ten hours round-trip to polling stations.
— In Montana, the Blackfeet Nation is pursuing parity between Natives and non-Natives for late registration access and absentee ballots.
— In North Dakota, tribal citizens are suing to overturn new, restrictive voter identification laws.
— In Alaska, an historic suit to improve voter access and language assistance in remote areas was settled; the called-for changes must now be implemented.
RELATED: Historic Voting-Rights Win in Alaska
— In South Dakota, in Poor Bear v. Jackson County four enrolled members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe alleges that Jackson County’s refusal to open a satellite office for in-person absentee voting and registration on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
— In Arizona, tribal members who use post office boxes on their IDs because they have no official address have been purged from the rolls or placed on a “suspense” list because they live in remote rural areas with no street names.
Importantly, some of these cases may not be resolved in time for the general elections in November. This voting season will be the first presidential election since the United States Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965 to prohibit discrimination against racial or linguistic minorities, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013).
At the time, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in a narrow 5-4 decision that released jurisdictions from a provision that mandated federal preclearance for any changing to voting practices. Tribal lawyers, scholars and voting rights experts predicted then and charge now that jurisdictions which have historically deprived and suppressed American Indian electoral participation have since operated virtually unchecked.
Almost immediately after the 2013 decision, states and counties moved swiftly to enact more restrictive voter identification laws; close and/or move polling places further away from Indian reservations and Indian communities; purge voter rolls; limit access to late registration and absentee ballots; initiate “mail-only” balloting; and ignore provisions in the act which require access to translation and other forms of assistance for voters who may have limited language or literacy, according to voting rights experts.
Moreover, tribal nations have been forced to sue election commissions for their refusal to redraw voting districts based on current Census data―known as “packing”―in order to maintain a white majority in voting districts which are, in fact, majority Native.
The return to “case-by-case” litigation has shifted the burden from the states to the tribal governments and individual tribal members to challenge discriminatory voting practices and county election commissions who continue to engage in gerrymandering and denial of ballot access, say tribal leaders. Resolving these issues after the fact has been enormously expensive and time consuming for tribes where many of their members live below the poverty line in remote areas with limited resources.
You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page