July 17, 2018

Indian Affairs, Rules Committees Hold Bipartisan Roundtable on Protecting Voting Rights in Indian Country

VIDEO: https://www.indian.senate.gov/hearing/voting-rights-access-and-barriers-indian-country-webcast

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Committees on Indian Affairs and Rules and Administration held a bipartisan roundtable on “Voting Rights, Access, and Barriers in Indian Country.” U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, led the hearing and were joined by tribal and state leaders. The roundtable focused on efforts to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives have equal access to federal and state voting systems.

“For centuries, discriminatory practices in this nation have denied and suppressed Native Americans’ fundamental right to vote and make their voices heard in U.S. democracy,” said Udall. “My grandfather, Levi Udall, served as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court in 1948, when he authored the opinion ruling that Native Americans living on reservations could vote. At the time, he said that ‘To deny the right to vote . . . is to do violence to the principles of freedom and equality.’ But to this day -- more than five decades after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act -- many states and local jurisdictions have found new, more insidious ways to impose barriers on Native access to the ballot box. These undemocratic and anti-American barriers come in many forms: from Voter ID laws, to inadequate polling and registration sites, to lack of availability of Native language ballot materials. Today’s roundtable was a productive discussion about how Congress can help to end voter suppression in Native communities, and I look forward to working on legislation to help ensure that Native Americans can fully exercise their right to vote. And I thank Chairman Hoeven and Senator Klobuchar for their partnership in moving this important conversation forward at today’s roundtable.”

“Indian communities are often geographically, linguistically and culturally isolated from the rest of the nation,” said Hoeven. “This isolation, along with a lack of adequate transportation and deficient communication systems in Indian Country, can inhibit Native voters from engaging in the electoral process. There is clear a need for tribes and states to work together to implement and use possible options to improve access to polls. This cooperation will help ensure that Native Americans have an equal opportunity to participate in our most fundamental right as Americans: the right to vote.”

“Native American communities are disproportionately affected by challenges and barriers to vote,” said Klobuchar. “In Minnesota, the Red Lake community members had to travel over 100 miles roundtrip just to cast a ballot. That changed in 2014 when five Tribal Governments were permitted to use Satellite Voting Offices, but this is not the only solution. From ensuring accurate Census counting to implementing my legislation on Automatic Voter Registration, we can do more. Today’s roundtable gave us the opportunity to highlight the good work that is being done by tribal leaders and organizations and discuss how we can do more to improve voting rights. Our country is stronger when everyone participates in our democracy, and we must do everything we can to ensure that no community is denied access.”

Joining the Indian Affairs and Rules Committees today for the roundtable were:
-Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Secretary of State, New Mexico
-Jefferson Keel, President, National Congress of American Indians
-Julie Kitka, President, Alaska Federation of Natives
-Jackson Brossy, Executive Director, Navajo Nation Washington Office
-Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, Chairwoman, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head
-Jacqueline de Leon, Senior Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund
-Jim Tucker, Pro Bono Counsel, Native American Voting Rights Coalition

“Our tribal nations are sovereign nations,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. “They deserve to be treated with respect and at a government to government level. What we are trying to find out is how to develop voter information and participation programs in a way that is both culturally sensitive and language appropriate for those communities.”

In addition to Udall, Hoeven and Klobuchar, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) all joined the roundtable.