March 12, 2019

Udall, Luján Introduce Bicameral Native American Voting Rights Act






Udall, Luján Introduce Bicameral Native American Voting Rights Act

Landmark legislation would ensure equal access to the ballot box for Native peoples


WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M) led a group of Senate and House Democrats in re-introducing the Native American Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation that would provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to the electoral process.  Udall led the introduction of the Native American Voting Rights Act last Congress.


“For too long, Native Americans have been blocked from exercising their constitutional right to vote,” Udall said. “In 1948 – 70 years ago – my grandfather, Levi Udall, served as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court where he authored the opinion extending the right to vote to Native Americans living on the reservation. He wrote, ‘To deny the right to vote… is to do violence to the principles of freedom and equality.’ I wholeheartedly agree. But with every election cycle, state and local jurisdictions come up with new ways to deny Native Americans equal access to the ballot box. From eliminating polling and registration locations, to passing strict voter ID laws that target Native Americans living on reservations, these undemocratic barriers have blocked many Native Americans from exercising their basic civil right to vote. It is more important than ever that we pass legislation to ensure that the voices of Native communities in New Mexico and across Indian Country are counted, not discounted.”


“Our Democracy cannot succeed unless every eligible American has the opportunity to make their voice heard. Unfortunately, we’ve continued to see barriers erected to stop Americans from exercising their right to vote. And too often, those barriers target Native American voters and other Americans of color, including recent measures that forced strict and burdensome voter ID laws on tribal communities in North Dakota,” said Luján. “By removing barriers for Native Americans to register and vote, we strengthen our democracy. The creation of a first of its kind Native American voting rights task force will ensure that states can bolster and protect the right to vote for Native Americans in the future.”


The legislation would enact key measures, such as increasing Native access to voter registration sites and polling locations, and authorizing tribal ID cards for voting purposes. The bill would also bolster Native voter registration, education, and election participation efforts in tribal communities by authorizing a first of its kind Native American Voting Rights Task Force. Finally, the bill addresses the devastating effects of Shelby County v. Holder by prohibiting states from undertaking discriminatory actions without Department of Justice agreement and government-to-government consultation.


In addition to Udall and Luján, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Booker (D-N.J.), Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Feinstein (D-Calif), Harris (D-Calif.), Heinrich (D-N.M), Hirono (D-Hawaii), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.), Schatz (D-Hawaii), Schumer (D-N.Y.), Smith (D-Minn.), Tester (D- Mont.), and Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Haaland (D-N.M.), Davids (D-Kan.), Gallego (D-Ariz.), McCollum (D-Minn.), Cole (R-Okla.), Nadler (D-N.Y.), Cohen (D-Tenn.), O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Huffman (D-Calif.), Moore (D-Wis.), Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Torres (D-Calif.), Soto (D-Fla.), Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Ruiz (D-Calif.), Bass (D-Calif.), Khanna (D-Calif.), Aguilar (D-Calif.), Sewell (D-Ala.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Carbajal (D-Calif,), Kilmer (D-Wash.), Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Omar (D-Minn), Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Kuster (D-N.H.), Raskin (D-Md.), Sires (D-N.J.), Case (D-Hawaii), Smith (D-Wash.), Lieu (D-Calif.), DeFazio (D-Ore.), Peters (D-Calif), Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Torres Small (D-N.M.), and Jackson Lee (D-Texas).


“Our nation’s democracy is founded on the right to vote and the ability of every citizen to participate in that process equally. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles in Indian Country that stand in the way of Native Americans’ ability to vote—from language barriers and burdensome voter ID requirements to the locations of polling places for remote and rural communities,” said Heinrich. I’m proud to support this legislation to provide resources and oversight to overcome those obstacles and ensure equal access to our democracy.”


“For too long Native communities throughout America have waited for the federal government to guarantee their civil rights, including the right to vote,” said Cortez Masto. “The Native American Voting Rights Act is essential to removing barriers to voting that are all too common in Tribal communities. I remain committed to fighting for and protecting the rights of Nevada’s Native American communities in the Senate.”


“The right to vote is fundamental, and we must ensure that everyone has a voice in our democracy. I’m proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing this legislation to address the specific, systemic barriers that Native Americans face in the democratic process and to give the federal government greater tools to enforce voting rights law on behalf of tribal communities,” said Harris.


“When the right to vote is restricted, it undermines the very foundation of our democracy. And if certain groups are barred or discouraged from voting, then our elected representatives cannot be held accountable for protecting the rights and interests of all of us.” said Smith. “I’m proud to support legislation to ensure Native Americans have equal access to this fundamental right.”


“For too long, Native Americans have been silenced by unfair rules that prevent them from casting ballots,” Tester said. “We should be doing everything we can to increase voting access so all Americans can exercise their constitutional rights. This bill would give tribes the tools they need to get more folks to the polls and make their voices heard ​in our democracy.”

“Native communities have long faced numerous obstacles to exercising their right to vote, from inconvenient polling places to discriminatory voter ID requirements,” Warren said. “It’s critical that tribal communities have equal access to the ballot box, which is why I’m pleased to join Senator Udall in introducing this powerful legislation to help safeguard Native voters’ voices in the democratic process.”


“Native American communities, especially in rural areas, face unacceptable obstacles to voting. Until satellite voting locations were implemented in 2014, members of the Red Lake Native community in Minnesota had to travel as far as 100 miles to cast a ballot, a trip that could cost as much as $40. There were similar barriers to voting for the tribal communities in White Earth and Leech Lake. While Minnesota has worked to address some of the barriers to voting, many states have not and more must be done,” Klobuchar said.  “The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy and the Native American Voting Rights Act is an important step in safeguarding that right for Native Americans.”


“Voting is the very foundation of our democracy, yet Native Americans have long faced repeated barriers at the ballot box. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues from both the House and Senate to ensure that Native Americans have equal access to the electoral process and an equal voice in our democracy,” said Davids.  


“This bill will help close many of the gaps in registration and accessibility that have persisted in Indian Country,” said Gallego. “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.”


“Restoring and strengthening voting rights is critical to ensuring our democracy works for everyone,” said McCollum. “I’m proud to join Rep. Luján in reintroducing legislation to remove barriers to voting for Native Americans. The Native American Voting Rights Act 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. A strong and vibrant democracy relies on the inclusion of every voice.”

“The bottom line is: voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and every elected official should be making it easier for Americans to make their voices heard at the ballot box,” Sewell said. “During the November 2018 mid-term elections, we saw the North Dakota state legislature implement a voter-ID requirement that acted as a barrier to voting for thousands of Native Americans who live on reservations and use P.O. boxes, rather than residential street addresses. I am proud that the Native American Voting Rights Act will build upon the protections in H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, and specifically address the challenges posed by voters on tribal lands.”


A recent letter of support signed by over 40 voting rights organizations, including the Native American Voting Rights Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union, states: “The Act takes significant steps towards achieving the equal political opportunities envisioned by Frank Harrison and Miguel Trujillo when they bravely sought to exercise their first right of citizenship over seventy years ago.”


“We know the importance of making our voices heard and exercising our right to vote,” said National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel. “As tribal leaders, we often discuss what we can do to motivate our tribal citizens to vote, but one of the problems is that voting is simply harder for our citizens than it is for others. This legislation would help change that, and we hope Congress will move quickly to enact this important legislation.”


The full text of the bill is available HERE. A summary of the legislation is available HERE. 

A letter of support on behalf of the civil rights community and Native organizations is available HERE.



Contacts: Ned Adriance (Udall), 202.228.6870 / Lauren French (Luján) 202.225.6190