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Lujan Champions Native American Voting Rights

August 19, 2021 by Dan McCue
Sen. Ben Ray Luján addresses For The People Act voting Rights rally on Capitol Hill, Aug. 3, 2021. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., is the lead sponsor of the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021, landmark legislation intended to ensure equal access to the electoral process for Native Americans, Alaska Natives and voters living on tribal lands.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

Luján previously led the House re-introduction of NAVRA during the 116th Congress alongside former Sen. Tom Udall.

“Our Democracy is at its strongest when every American can participate and make their voice heard,” Luján said in a written statement. “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. 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.”

“The Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act will empower more voters to participate in the electoral process, and I look forward to working with Reps. Davids and Cole to build support for this legislation,” he said.

The United States has a responsibility to enact voting rights legislation to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed right of Native Americans to vote, the bill sponsors say.

However, Native American voters have historically faced unique challenges when exercising their right to vote. Geographic isolation, non-traditional mailing addresses, lack of residential mail delivery, lack of affordable and reliable broadband service, limited transportation, less access to polling and registration sites than those not located on tribal lands, native language translation needs, and poverty are just some of the distinct issues confronting native voters that demand a legislative solution.

NAVRA will work, the sponsors say, “to enact key measures, such as allowing tribes to specify the number and locations of requested voter registration sites, drop boxes and polling locations on tribal lands, and authorizing tribal ID cards for voting purposes.” 

The bill would also help establish state-level Native American voting task forces to address the unique voting issues faced by voters on tribal lands by authorizing a $10 million Native American Voting Rights Task Force grant program. It would also require prior tribal notice and consent before states and precincts could remove, consolidate, or otherwise reduce access to voting locations on tribal lands.

“We cannot have an inclusive democracy if we do not provide Native Americans equal access to the ballot,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., a co-sponsor of the legislation. “We must address the systemic and other barriers that Native Americans face when voting, and customize our elections administration to ensure that Tribal communities are not denied equal participation in our democratic process. 

“In addressing these unique challenges, we must also listen to and collaborate with tribes. As California’s secretary of state, I supported the creation of a task force to advise elections officials on improving Native American voter participation–this legislation would bring that concept to states across the nation,” he said.

The legislation is endorsed by the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Native American Voting Rights Coalition, Alaska Federation of Natives, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, National Indian Education Association, Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Coalition of Large Tribes, Advance Native Political Leadership, California Native Vote Project, North Dakota Native Vote, Four Directions, Las Vegas Indian Center, NDN Collective, Sacred Pipe Resource Center, Tribal Minds Inc., United Natives, All Pueblo Council of Governors, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Navajo Nation, American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Advancing Justice, Brennan Center for Justice, Fair Elections Center, NAACP (LDF), Campaign Legal Center, Demos, National Disability Rights Network, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The full text of the bill is available here.

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