U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) has introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2018, landmark legislation to provide the resources and oversight necessary to protect Native Americans’ access to the ballot box.
The bill incorporates principles of self-determination into the electoral process, meaning that Indian Tribes and their members will be the decision-makers when it comes to ensuring their communities and members have equal access to their constitutional right to vote. Recent events highlight the urgency and necessity of federal legislation to secure the voting rights of Native American voters.
“Voting today anywhere in America should be easier, not harder,” Rep. Luján said. “Yet, Native Americans continue to face obstacles to exercising their fundamental right to participate in our democratic processes. This legislation will help create equal access to the ballot box for Native voters, ultimately strengthening our democracy and the voice of Native America.”
The legislation is cosponsored by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ).
“This bill will help close many of the gaps in registration and accessibility that have persisted in Indian Country,” Rep. Gallego said. “It is unacceptable in this day and age that any American faces barriers to participating in one of the most basic functions of our democracy.”
“A strong and vibrant democracy relies on the civic engagement of every voice,” Rep. McCollum said. “I’m proud to join Rep. Lujan in introducing legislation to remove barriers to voter participation for Native Americans, because every American citizen deserves the right to vote unimpeded. This legislation will empower tribal communities in their efforts to improve access to voter registration, education on voting procedure, and ensuring equal treatment of tribal identification at the ballot box.”
“Every American in every community has the right to vote, but unfortunately, for many living in tribal communities, access to the voting booth is not always guaranteed. From remote polling locations to a lack of language assistance, the barriers for these voters to exercise their right are often too high. This Congress has a responsibility to ensure every voter can participate in our democracy, and this legislation is an important step. I am proud to cosponsor the Native American Voting Rights Act, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure tribal communities are represented in Washington,” Rep. O’Halleran said.
Introduced in the Senate by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and eleven additional Senate Democrats, the Native American Voting Rights Act would establish a Native American Voting Rights Task Force, increase Native access to voter registration sites and polling locations, and ensure equal treatment for tribal ID cards for voting purposes.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Yet it took nearly 200 years for Native Americans to become eligible to vote in their own country — and they continue to face barriers at the ballot box in national, state, and local elections. From the elimination of polling and registration locations to the passage of voter ID laws intentionally designed to prevent them from exercising the franchise, Native Americans have been systematically blocked from exercising their constitutional right to make their voices heard,” Sen. Udall said. “I thank Representative Luján for his efforts to break down these undemocratic barriers by introducing legislation in the House that mirrors my Senate bill. It is more important than ever that we pass legislation to ensure that the voices of Native communities across Indian Country are heard loudly and clearly, and I look forward to continuing to work with Representative Luján to ensure that Native voters across New Mexico and Indian Country have equal access to the ballot box.”
“The vitality of American democracy demands that all voices be heard, including the Native voice,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman Paul Torres. “For too long, our voices have been muffled and even suppressed at the ballot box. The All Pueblo Council of Governors applauds the introduction of the Native American Voting Rights Act by Congressman Luján, which will address many of the hurdles to Native participation in the voting process.”
“The Native American Voting Rights Coalition has identified numerous obstacles that Native Americans face when voting or participating in the political process. Issues like language barriers, modern day poll taxes, unequal resources for reservations, unequal opportunities to register to vote, and overt racism are common occurrences within Native communities participating in state and federal elections. In the recent midterms, we saw these problem at play in pivotal races across the country. These obstacles illustrate how much we need legislation such as the Native American Voting Rights Act to protect the fundamental right to vote for every qualified elector,” said Natalie Landreth, Senior Staff Attorney for Native American Rights Fund.
The Navajo Nation added, “The Navajo Nation commends Representatives Luján, McCollum, and Gallego for supporting Senator Udall and their efforts to increase Native American voter outreach, spearhead language and broadband barriers, and increasing access to polling sites and early voter registration with the introduction of this legislation. Native American citizens have continued to fight for their right to vote in state elections for over 70 years. We thank our congressional leaders for highlighting the unique barriers our citizens face in exercising their fundamental right.”
“We appreciate the efforts of Rep. Luján to introduce the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2018 and the efforts of Senator Udall to introduce this same bill in the Senate to help remove existing barriers to our constitutional right to vote,” said Governor Frederick “Rick” Vigil of the Pueblo of Tesuque. “As the first Americans, we were the last to be granted voting rights and New Mexico did not grant full voting rights to our people until 1948. We are still working to ensure full access to this hard-fought right and this legislation will greatly assist in our efforts.”
“Over the years, the U.S. government created discriminatory barriers that have deprived many Native Americans of their right to vote. Here in New Mexico, Native Americans weren’t even allowed to vote until 1948, and we are still seeing other states trying to block Native Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote,” said Common Cause New Mexico executive director Heather Ferguson. “We commend Congressman Luján for joining Senator Udall in introducing the Native American Voting Rights Act to help ensure all Native Americans will have their voices heard and voting rights protected.”