Nevada is a swing state this November, with outsized influence on who will sit in the White House and which party will control the Senate. Meanwhile, polls show Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump a few percentage points apart there. One largely ignored and un-polled group could change that—if they get election offices in their communities.
Nevada’s Native voters travel as much as 200 miles round-trip from their reservations to register or vote in distant county seats. In August, tribes asked their counties and the Nevada secretary of state for satellite voting offices, but were rebuffed. As a consequence, five tribal members have filed a federal voting-rights lawsuit.
ICTMN spoke to plaintiff Vinton Hawley, who has been chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe since early 2015. The tribe has no registration or early voting and minimal Election Day voting on its reservation. It also overlaps Washoe County, Nevada, which news group Politico calls a swing county in a swing state—one of few places in the nation with its thumb on the scales for Election 2016. Party registration there is about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, reports Politico. Presidents Obama and Bush both carried the bellwether county.
Here’s what Chairman Hawley had to say.
Why this lawsuit now?
Nevada Native voters have never had anything like equal access to the ballot box. We chairpersons are in the process of learning, as well as educating tribal members, about early voting and our rights under the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. On reservations, we face barriers having to do with miles from the polls, while those of us who vote in cities face racially motivated problems and issues over IDs. We are not equal.
How did the state and counties respond to tribal requests for full election services?
Not a phone call, not even a conversation to see if we could work together—with tribes offering staffing and space for the polling place and negotiating the number of days for early voting, for example. They just turned us down, claiming there wasn’t enough time. There certainly was time for one phone call. I would have communicated, if I’d received a comparable request. So, we filed the lawsuit.
Do Pyramid Lake voters lean Democratic or Republican, when they do get to vote?
Generally, we vote Democratic, though an issue may come up that’ll mean we go Independent. I can’t speak for other tribes.
Did this prompt the Republican secretary of state to encourage the counties to turn down the tribes?
I couldn’t guess at her, or their, motives.
Is one of your goals affecting the election outcome in Washoe, and thus the White House and the Senate?
Election participation is our goal. It’s 2016, and we want the opportunity to vote.