Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

In a year where state governments have introduced legislation seemingly making it more difficult for people of color to vote, companion bills have been introduced in Congress that will work to protect voting rights for Native communities.

The new legislation introduced Monday afternoon in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate will protect and ensure equal access to the polls for Native Americans, Alaska Natives and all who live on tribal lands.

Congressional Native American Caucus co-chairs Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, and Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, introduced the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 in the House. Companion legislation was brought forward by Democratic New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján.

In a press release from Davids’ office, it states Native voters have long faced unique challenges when it comes time to participate in the electoral process. These challenges range from non-traditional mailing addresses to unreliable broadband service to limited access to polling locations and more.

Davids’ called voting “the very foundation of our democracy,” and the new legislation will help and encourage tribal communities to exercise their right to vote.

“This bill further fulfills our federal trust responsibility to protect and promote Native Americans’ exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote,” Davids said in the statement. “I am proud to continue what Senator Luján advanced during his time in the House along with my Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Tom Cole. I stand with my colleagues from both the House and the Senate on introducing this important and comprehensive piece of legislation that will ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to our democracy.”

Among the key takeaways from the bill would increase drop boxes and polling stations on tribal lands, authorize tribal IDs for voting purposes and establish a $10 million Native American Voting Rights Task Force grant program at the state-level that would be used to address the barriers Native voters face.

Additionally, it would “require prior Tribal notice and consent before States and precincts could remove, consolidate, or otherwise reduce access to voting locations on Tribal lands.”

Cole touted the bill for the resources it will give to Indian Country.

“This legislation greatly improves the tools and resources available to help Native Americans exercise their right to vote, which is especially important for those living in rural areas,” the Oklahoma Rep. said in the statement.

On the Senate side, Luján said the legislation will empower and encourage more tribal citizens to participate in the voting process.

“Our Democracy is at its strongest when every American can participate and make their voice heard. But in too many communities across America, voter suppression efforts are making it harder for Americans to vote, especially for Native Americans who continue to experience geographic, linguistic, and legal barriers to voting,” he said in the statement. “Congress has a moral imperative to protect the sacred right to vote and reduce barriers to the ballot box for voters living on Tribal lands.”

Outside of Congress, more than 30 Native organizations signed on and endorsed the legislation.

One of the organizations, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition, said they were proud to endorse the bill.

“Many Native people living on reservations have to work incredibly hard, travel unreasonable distances, and make significant commitments of time, resources, and effort in order to vote,” the organization said. “This legislation recognizes the unique challenges in Native communities and begins to address some of the systemic problems. The Native American Voting Rights Coalition is proud to endorse this important piece of legislation.”

Full text of the bill can be found here.

Stay tuned to Indian Country Today for more updates as the legislation makes its way through Congress. 

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