Law

6 things you should know about the 2021 Native American Voting Rights Act

Indigenous communities face disproportionate barriers to voting, but the act would help protect this important right.

 

Lummi Tribal member Patsy Wilson fills out her ballot with assistance from volunteer Kelli Jefferson on Nov. 3, 2020, in Lummi Nation, Washington. NAVRA will allow tribal members to register, pick up and drop off their ballots at designated tribal buildings.
Elaine Thompson/AP Images

In August, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Reps. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., (Ho-Chunk Nation) and Tom Cole, R-Okla., (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma) introduced the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 (NAVRA). 

The bipartisan legislation follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on a prominent voting rights case. In Brnovich v. DNC, the court upheld two Arizona voting policies that disqualify any ballot cast in the wrong precinct, as well as a 2016 law that made it a felony for anyone but a family or household member or caregiver to return another person’s mail ballot. Ballot harvesting or collecting is often used by get-out-the-vote groups to increase Indigenous turnout. Activists and attorneys say the July ruling will make it harder for people of color — especially Indigenous populations — to vote.

NAVRA seeks to fulfill the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect Native Americans’ right to vote by tackling the unique challenges that Indigenous communities face. “We have to address ongoing discriminatory policies at the state and local levels, Native American Rights Fund staff attorney Jacqueline De León (Isleta Pueblo) said. “We need a federal policy that sets a baseline of access and prevents continuing abuses.” 

These six provisions of the proposed legislation are intended to increase Indigenous voters’ access to the ballot box. 

1) NAVRA improves access to voter registration, polling places and drop boxes in Indian Country. 

The law requires states to designate at least one polling place and registration site for both state and federal elections in every precinct in which tribal voters reside on tribal lands. NAVRA also requires federally funded or operated facilities, such as Indian Health Services, to serve as designated voter registration sites.

2) It mandates the acceptance of tribally or federally issued IDs where IDs are required.

Some states have restrictive voting ID policies that place a disproportionate hardship on Indigenous voters. In North Dakota, for example, the Spirit Lake Nation and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued over a state policy that required voters to present identification that includes a residential street address, even though many tribal members live on reservations that lack residential street addresses or have to use P.O. boxes for mail service. NAVRA authorizes the use of tribal IDs for voting purposes. 

3) It permits tribes to designate buildings to use as addresses for registration.

This would allow tribal members without a residential address, stable address or mail delivery to register, pick up and drop off their ballots at designated tribal buildings. 

4) The law will establish Native American voting task forces.

NAVRA would establish state-level voting task forces to address some of the issues unique to Indian Country, including inadequate broadband access and the lack of mailing addresses. It would also increase voter outreach and help with voter identification and language assistance. 

5) It requires pre-approval of any changes in election procedures.

States would not be able to reduce, remove or consolidate voting access on tribal land without first obtaining tribal consent, U.S. attorney general consent, or an order from the D.C. Federal District Court.

6) NAVRA also mandates culturally appropriate language assistance.

The law would allow language access to be provided orally if written translation of a tribe’s language is not culturally permitted.

Learn more about the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021.

Jessica Douglas is a staff writer at  High Country News  and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. We welcome reader letters. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editorSee our letters to the editor policy.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.