It’s time for true protections for the Native vote

Nov 05, 2023

Today marks one year from the 2024 fall general election, reminding us that Wisconsin's spring and fall elections are just around the corner. Despite all of our efforts and progress, our country is still falling short in addressing the numerous barriers Native people continue to face when casting their ballots.

Some of those barriers include a lack of broadband access, nontraditional mailing addresses, socioeconomic challenges, poor access to distant polling locations, and more. It’s time we have national standards that truly protect our freedom to vote.

We need Congress to pass the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA), which would create federal voting policies that are enforceable in states. The current federal law does not prevent states from creating vastly different election rules which inherently make the election process more confusing and difficult to navigate.

Here in Wisconsin for instance, people must show a proof of residence document to register to vote, then are required to have an photo ID to vote. For many Natives in both urban and rural areas dealing with extreme poverty and homelessness, obtaining these documents can be close to impossible.

Additionally, many people living on reservations lack access to broadband internet, even though there is a general assumption that everyone in our state has internet access – a common problem across Indian Country. This adds extra steps to the voter registration process and makes it harder to get updated information on changing election rules and voting districts.

The challenges run even deeper than these few examples – a deep distrust of local and national governments is common among our people. This understandably comes from our country’s long history of the forced removal of Indian nations from their homelands, the forced removal of Indian children from their homes, and the attempts by the U.S. government to erase our languages, cultures, and ways of life.

Over and over again, we have seen how the election system is not built for our people, but Congress has an opportunity to change this historical pattern of oppression with legislation.

Through the constant attempts to silence and erase our people, we have shown that our voices have power. Now we must use our voices to tell Congress to pass the NAVRA. Since the early days of tribal chiefs negotiating treaties, to the Indian Rights and Land Back movements, and through today, we have proven that when we organize and are part of the process, we can have a dramatic impact.

The Native American Voting Rights Act is a necessary piece of legislation that can address the ongoing barriers Native people face and build trust in the voting system. Our representatives in Congress must pass this bill to safeguard the Native right to vote. Call your congressperson today and ask them to support this bill.

Native people have always been protectors of the land, the waters, and the sky. We must use our voices to safeguard our languages, our traditional ecological knowledge, our sovereignty, and the seventh generation. Our freedom to vote is an essential duty for every citizen of this country, and we must protect that birthright.