Voting Rights

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What Do Native Americans Want From a President?

Tribes have had the same hopes and dreams for generations. Will the 2020 presidential candidates hear them?


David Montgomery, The Washington Post - May. 13, 2019

Navajo Nation alleges elections officials discriminated against tribe's voters

The Navajo Nation has filed a lawsuit alleging that elections officials in three Arizona counties discriminated against tribal members and haven't properly counted about 100 ballots.

Their tribe's lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, seeks an emergency court order requiring the counties to give Navajo voters five days to resolve any issues with rejected mail-in ballots.

If granted, that could delay Arizona's scheduled date for certifying final election results, which is set for Dec. 3.

In the lawsuit, the Navajo Nation alleges that county recorders in Apache, Coconino, and Navajo counties rejected their pleas for additional in-person voter registration sites and early voting sites.

According to the tribe, 67,252 voting-age members who live in the Arizona portion of their reservation had less access to vote than other Arizonans.

"Current voting practices utilized in Arizona discriminate against the Navajo Nation's tribal members," the lawsuit states. "Navajo voters have less opportunity than other voters to participate in early voting."


Dustin Gardiner, Arizona Republic - Nov. 21, 2018

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Proof of Service

Jim Crow in North Dakota. - In North Dakota, Native Americans Try to Turn an ID Law to Their Advantage - The New York Times

In North Dakota, Native Americans Try to Turn an ID Law to Their Advantage

FORT YATES, N.D. - 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.


The New York Times. Oct. 30, 2018

Department of Justice Proposes Legislation to Improve Access to Voting for American Indians and Alaska Natives

Today the Department of Justice proposed legislation that would require states or localities whose territory includes part or all of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village, or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by the tribal government.

"The Department of Justice is deeply committed to ensuring that every eligible individual is able to exercise his or her fundamental right to vote," said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. "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."

"As citizens of a nation founded upon the principles of liberty and equality, Native Americans have faced unacceptable barriers to participating in the franchise, a situation aggravated by a history of discrimination, poverty and - significantly - great distances from polling places," said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery. "In spite of many reforms made possible by the Voting Rights Act and other measures, voting rates among Native Americans remain disproportionately low. The legislation proposed today would address this unacceptable gap and we look forward to working with Congress to see it enacted."


United States Department of Justice. Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act


United States Department of Justice. DRAFT LEGISLATION.

Statement of Interest


United States Department of Justice. October 3, 2016

Tester's full letter to Sessions and Toulou


United States Senate. May 16, 2018

First voting on Paiute reservation inspires big turnout

Nixon had never had a place where people could vote on Election Day, at least not in the 52 years Linda Ely has lived there.

But a lawsuit filed to help Indian tribes have better voting access in Nevada led to a polling station being set up in the Pyramid Lake tribal center in Nixon....


Reno Gazette Journal. November 8, 2016

DOJ will monitor polls in Washoe, Mineral counties

The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division will monitor polls on Election Day in Washoe and Mineral counties.

The department announced the move in a press release on Monday that it would send 500 personnel to 67 jurisdictions across the nation -- including the two Nevada counties -- to gather information on whether or not counties are complying with federal voting laws.

"The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote, and the Department of Justice works tirelessly to uphold that right not only on Election Day, but every day," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in the release. "We enforce federal statutes related to voting through a range of activities – including filing our own litigation when the facts warrant, submitting statements of interest in private lawsuits to help explain our understanding of these laws, and providing guidance to election officials and the general public about what these laws mean and what they require."


Reno Gazette Journal. November 7, 2016

In Nevada, some Native Americans have to travel 270 miles to vote

Highway 379 turns to gravel here, white and dusty, narrowing until it disappears into the craggy mountains off in the distance. Hang a right before the pavement ends and a skinny road veers toward the center of this tiny town.

They're used to remoteness here on the Duckwater Shoshone reservation in Nye County. Its residents recently got a laundromat with seven washing machines. They are still searching for a doctor, but they finally filled two vacant police positions. There's no restaurants, banks or supermarkets, but there is a gas station - four large tanks propped high on skinny metal legs with a naked nozzle padlocked to the side.


By David Montero. LA Times. November 9, 2016

Paiute Lawsuit Victory Brings Voting Sites To Reservations

Two Northern Nevada Paiute tribes partially won a federal voting rights lawsuit earlier this month in Reno.

The victory means Pyramid Lake and Walker River tribal members will have better access to the polls, with voting sites on their reservations. Federal judge Miranda Du did not grant in-person voter registration to the tribes because all plaintiffs were already registered to vote.

Tom Rodgers is a voting rights advocate and the principal at Carlyle Consulting. He said many people who live on reservations live in remote areas and in poverty, without access to reliable transportation.


Nevada Public Radio, November 1, 2016

99-year-old native votes at Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation

One of the eldest residents of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation at 99-years-young voted early on her ancestor's land on Friday, Nov. 4th.

Flora Green was born in 1917, which was well before Native Americans were granted the right to vote in the United States elections via the Indian Citizen Act of 1924.


News 4-Fox 11, November 4, 2016

Statement on Nevada Native American Voting Effort by Tom Rodgers

Tom Rodgers, a Blackfeet lawyer and a leading national strategist behind the unprecedented Native American voting effort, issued the following statement today on the Nevada vote effort and Pyramid Lake Paiute elder Flora Green voting for the first time during early voting on her reservation:

"This week Flora Green, a 99-year-old Pyramid Lake Paiute woman did not have to travel across time the 96 years since women were granted the right to vote. This week Flora Green did not have to travel across time the 92 years since Native Americans were granted the right to vote. This week Flora Green did not have to travel the 96 miles to Reno, Nevada to place her vote. This week Flora Green walked the 200 hundred yards from her home in Nixon, Nevada to democracy where she cast her vote.

"Almost two years ago my native brothers, Four Directions and I set out on this journey for justice in the land known in Spanish as 'the mountains covered in snow.' Now after more battles and more miles traveled we have persevered again in our battle for full equality for our native sisters and brothers. It is a journey that has led us from the plains of the Dakotas, to the saw-toothed peaks of Montana to the high desert of Nevada. It is a personal journey informed by a Blackfeet great grandmother who could not sign her name when asked but rather could only make an X. She could only make her mark. I can only hope that she would be proud to say that her great grand son had made his.


November 5, 2016

For Native Americans, Jim Crow is Alive & Well in the West

JURIST Guest Columnist Tom Rodgers, a Washington, DC-based lawyer engaged in Native American economic and social empowerment advocacy, discusses the equal access challenges faced by Native American voters in the West in light of the resurgent voting rights movement in the US ...

There is at this moment a resurgent and essential voting rights movement in the US aimed at enfranchising demographic groups that long were intentionally kept from the process of casting a ballot. While most of these pro-democracy initiatives are focused on establishing early voting efforts and wiping away or preventing a re-emergence of Jim Crow laws in the South, the historic inability of Native Americans to have equal access at the ballot box in the West has sadly gone unnoticed until this year.


edited by Val Merlina, Jurist. Wednesday 2 November 2016

Native Americans vote early at court-mandated polling place in Nixon

Over 50 Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe members who previously had to travel almost 100 miles to vote early did so on tribal land, in the town of Nixon Saturday.

The new polling place was mandated by a judge last month after tribal leaders won a federal case accusing Washoe County and the Secretary of State of discriminating against them under the Voting Rights Act.

Robert James, a plaintiff on the case who was born and raised on the Pyramid Lake Paiute reservation, said he "never thought (he) would see the day."

Tribal chairman Vinton Hawley said the 2,800 enrolled tribe members finally have equal access to be able to fulfill their civic duty.


By Ben Margiott, NEWS 4. Sunday, October 23rd 2016

Pondera County Voting Issue (Closed Session)

Tyson Running Wolf made a motion to authorize the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to direct Pondera County to provide the same opportunities for Register and Vote to residents residing in the majority of the Blackfeet Precinct of the Heart Butte area. Second by Iliff Kipp. Motion carried unanimously.


Tyson T. Running Wolf, Secretary. Blackfeet Tribal Business Council

Federal judge orders Florida to provide method to fix vote-by-mail ballot signatures

Less than 24-hours after canceling a hearing on the vote-by-mail ballots, District Judge Mark Walker for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued an order requiring Florida to provide a method for voters to fix signature problems arising from vote-by-mail ballots. Walker was highly critical of the state's opposition to allowing these voters to ensure their votes are counted, calling it an odd and unconstitutional double-standard resulting in disenfranchisement of thousands of Florida voters. In particular, the judge said, "[i]t is illogical, irrational, and patently bizarre for the State of Florida to withhold the opportunity to cure from mismatched-signature voters while providing the same opportunity to no-signature voters."


The Jurist - Monday 17 October 2016 at 1:10 PM ET

Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada

Native Americans in Nevada will have greater voting access next month than ever before, boosting the chances that Democrats retain a key Senate seat and capture the state's six electoral votes in the presidential election.

A federal court last week ruled in favor of tribes after they challenged the state of Nevada under the Voting Rights Act. Chairman Vinton Hawley of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Chairman Bobby D. Sanchez of the Walker River Paiute Tribe spearheaded the legal challenge, claiming they did not have equal access to vote after requests for additional polling stations had been denied.

"We chose Nevada about a year ago," said lobbyist Tom Rodgers, founder and president of Carlyle Consulting, who has worked on the case on a pro bono basis.

"We chose it because of the presidential race implications, control of the Senate implications," he said, also noting that Nevada residents had some of the most intense fallout from the 2008 financial crisis.


The Hill By Megan R. Wilson - 10/12/16 06:00 AM EDT



Submitted to the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Civil Rights Division. October 3, 2016

State official 'pleased' with satellite voting numbers

Preliminary numbers from the June 7 primary election showed 424 voting-related users, either in new registrations or updates to registrations and absentee requests at the 13 satellite offices set up on Indian reservations, according to numbers from the secretary of state's office.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said she was "pleased and encouraged" by the number of voters who used the facilities.

"Hundreds of citizens were able to register and vote thanks to our satellite offices," she said via email. "I look forward to an even greater turnout during the 2016 General Election."


Great Falls Tribune July 20, 2016

Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act -- Letter to The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr., President, United States Senate

Dear Mr. President:

The right to vote is the bedrock guarantee of this great nation. For far too long, our American

Indian and Alaska Native communities have faced significant obstacles that have prevented these communities from enjoying equal access to polling places and equal opportunities to cast a ballot. In addition to suffering from a long history of discrimination, the distance many American Indian and Alaska Native citizens must travel to reach a polling place presents a substantial and ongoing barrier to full voter participation. Following formal consultations with Indian Tribes, the Department of Justice believes that there is a pressing need for federal legislation to ensure equal access to voting by Native American voters. We are pleased to transmit to Congress the enclosed legislative proposal, which would ensure that American Indian and Alaska Natives have access to at least one polling place in their communities to cast their ballots and ensure their voices are heard - a basic right that most other citizens already take for granted.


May 21, 2015

Remarks on the Signing of the Voting Rights Act (August 6, 1965)
Lyndon B. Johnson

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Costs of Indian voting rights legal counsel released
Money spent by counties defending a 2012 lawsuit on Indian voting rights could have gone toward setting up satellite voting and alternative voting areas on reservations for years, Indian voting activists said.

Blaine County paid $119,071 and Rosebud County paid $116,000 for outside legal counsel in the 2012 Wandering Medicine lawsuit, which was settled in 2014, a figure that could reach about $460,000 when combined with Bighorn County, which was also involved in the lawsuit, and the $100,000 paid to the plaintiffs' attorneys, activists said.

However, attorneys involved in the litigation say that is not the case..
-Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune 6:18 p.m. MDT June 10, 2016

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Tribes say rights violated in 2012 election
Arguments are scheduled in a lawsuit over tribal members' ability to vote.
-John S. Adams, USA TODAY10:50a.m. EDT March 18, 2013

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Montana Native Voters Aren't Equal - But That's Not Enough, Says Judge
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Richard Cebull has denied an emergency request by Montana Indians, including lead plaintiff Mark Wandering Medicine, Northern Cheyenne, for satellite early-voting offices on the Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Fort Belknap reservations. The October 30 decision, in federal court in Billings, has the effect of postponing resolution of the issue until after the election.
-Stephanie Woodard, Indian Country - 11/5/12

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Judge rejects Native Americans' lawsuit over access to polling places
A federal judge in Montana has shot down an attempt by Native American tribes to get better voting access.
-Jordy Yager, The Hill - 10/31/12

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Native Americans sue for early voting
American Indian groups in Montana have sued for early-voting offices on their reservations. Their request is opposed by election officials, both Republicans and Democrats, who say they don't have the time or resources to make it happen.Β The battle will be fought this week in a federal court in Billings, Mont.
-BY STEPHANIE WOODARD Open Channel, - 10/16/12

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The Whole Story >

Tribal members sue for voting access
A group of American Indians from the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations sued state and county election officials in federal court on Wednesday, seeking equal access to voting through satellite offices.
-Billings Gazette - 10/10/12

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read more about CASE NO. 1:12-CV-135-RFC

read more about CASE NO. 1:12-cv-00135-RFC

VIDEO: Protesting for equal access to the polls
Native American groups delivered a complaint to the federal courthouse in Billings that claims residents on reservations don't have the same access to the polls as other county residents.
-Billings Gazette - 10/10/12

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