DOJ proposes bill to improve access to voting in Indian Country

Loretta Lynch. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The Department of Justice has proposed legislation to improve access to voting in Indian Country.

The Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act of 2015 requires states and local governments to place polling locations on reservations and in Alaska Native villages. Tribes will be able to make requests for the sites and will be obligated to provide staffing, although the bill requires states to provide "compensation and other benefits" to election officials and poll workers to the same extent as those provided elsewhere.

“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to ensuring that every eligible individual is able to exercise his or her fundamental right to vote,” newly-confimed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a press release. “That’s why, today, I am calling on Congress to help remove the significant and unnecessary barriers that for too long have confronted American Indians and Alaska Natives attempting to cast their ballots. The legislation we recommend today will make this nation stronger by extending meaningful voting opportunities to native populations, by encouraging full participation in our democratic institutions, and by bringing us closer to our most cherished ideals.”

The National Congress of American Indians welcomed the proposal, which was developed after a tribal consultation process last year. It will help address situations faced by tribal members in places like the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada, where the nearest polling place is a two-hour drive each way.

“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy and must be ensured for Native people living on Indian reservations or in Alaska Native Villages,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said in a press release. “We are very supportive of this legislation because it comes directly from discussions with tribal leadership.”

DOJ has taken a greater interest in voting rights since President Barack Obama came on board in 2009. Government attorneys have filed briefs in support of tribal members in cases in Alaska, Montana and South Dakota.

“In spite of many reforms made possible by the Voting Rights Act and other measures, voting rates among Native Americans remain disproportionately low," acting Associate Attorney General Stuart said in the press release. "The legislation proposed today would address this unacceptable gap and we look forward to working with Congress to see it enacted.”

Get the Story:
Justice Department eyes voting reforms for American Indians (AP 5/21)

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