The voting process has long disenfranchised Native American communities. With the COVID-19 pandemic and mail-in voting exacerbating the problem, U.S. senators in the Mountain West and across the country are asking the federal government to make sure voters in Indian Country can cast ballots come November.
In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, the senators called out the lack of in-person polling places in tribal communities, and asked the Department of Justice to work with tribal governments to find solutions.
"Native Americans already face significant obstacles to voting and, as we approach the November election, many Tribal leaders have expressed concerns that their communities are being left behind in efforts to expand vote-by-mail," the letter reads. "Specifically, vote-by-mail obstacles that can affect Native American voters include not having mail delivered directly to their homes, distant rural post offices, too few P.O. boxes, homelessness, and language and technological barriers."
Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen was among the Western senators to sign the letter.
"Our tribal communities sometimes have unique challenges," Rosen told the Mountain West News Bureau. "They’re spread far apart, there’s all kinds of different issues that they have. So we want to be sure that they are able to vote."
Teresa Melendez, vice chair of the Nevada Statewide Native American Caucus, said she’d like to see states working directly with tribes to set up polling and ballot drop-off and pick-up locations on every reservation.
"Most homes on the reservation do not have a mailbox in front of their home," said Melendez. "That’s another thing people don’t know. We can’t go to our driveway and our mailbox and get our mail."
The senators' letter cites the Native American Rights Fund report "Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters," published last month.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.