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DOJ to consult tribes about polling locations in Indian Country





The Department of Justice will consult tribes about legislation to place polling stations in every tribal community.

American Indians and Alaska Natives must often travel long distances to cast their votes. Local stations will make it easier for tribal members to exercise one of their basic rights.

"As a nation, we cannot, and we will not, simply stand by as the voices of Native Americans are shut out of the democratic process," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video message to the National Congress of American Indians on Monday. I am personally committed to working with tribal authorities – and with Congress – to confront disparities and end misguided voting practices once and for all.”

The message was followed by a speech by Tony West, the associate attorney general at DOJ. He was in Anchorage, Alaska, to participate in NCAI's mid-year conference.

"We seek formal consultation on a proposal that would give American Indian and Alaska Natives a polling place in their community, somewhere to cast their ballots and ensure their voices are heard -- something most other citizens already take for granted," West told tribal leaders, according to his prepared remarks.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced S.2399, the Native Voting Rights Act, last month to protect voting rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives. One provision would prevent the closure of polling locations if it reduces the ability to vote.

"The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights we have as American citizens," Tester said in a press release yesterday. "It's unacceptable that so many Native Americans face significant obstacles to exercising this right. I'm pleased the Department of Justice is looking at this issue and I look forward to working with them to pass my bill to protect the right to vote in Indian Country."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) is a co-sponsor of the bill. She supports DOJ's proposal to create more voting locations in Indian Country.

“After spending time in Indian Country, including in North Dakota, Attorney General Holder today put forth real solutions to make sure equality extends to our reservations. I’m pushing for action in the Senate and I also look forward to helping the Administration implement its proposal," Heitkamp said in a press release. "We should all be able to agree that our voting system should make it simpler, not more difficult, for Americans to choose their elected officials.”

Get the Story:
Justice Department says states, nation must improve voting access for Natives (The Anchorage Daily News 6/10)
Tribal leaders welcome voting access plan (AP 6/9)
Lawmakers Address the Challenge of Native Voting Practices (KTUU 6/9)
Justice Department to work with tribes to enhance voting access (APRN 6/9)
National Congress of American Indians meets in Anchorage (KTVA 6/9)

Related Stories:
National Congress of American Indians hosts midyear in Alaska (6/9)