Voting process puts Native Americans at a disadvantage

The American Indian “vote” is shaping up as an increasing factor in Arizona being considered a swing-state in the upcoming election.

Professor Patty Ferguson-Bohnee of the Indian Legal Program at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law spoke about the many challenges Native Americans face in just getting a “chance” to vote.

Some of the main challenges are that Native Americans in Arizona do not have equal access to early voting, translation or registration. Since voting precincts are established by counties, some tribes do not have precincts established on their reservations.

Additionally, if Native Americans want to vote in-person, they have to travel long distances to get to a polling place. Voting by mail can also be a challenge, as only 18% of Native Americans receive mail at a home address.

Registration has also been tricky for some Native American voters. Before Sept. 4, voters could not use the online voter registration system because it did not accept non-traditional addresses. This meant that Native American voters would have to travel long distances and risk exposure at an in-person voter registration facility. Yet, after the system accepted non-traditional addresses, Native Americans still ran into problems due to their poor Internet connection.

“Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” Ferguson-Bohnee said. “That presents additional challenges for Native American voters…but tribes and communities are trying to do their best to adjust to the pandemic so that people are able to exercise their right to vote.”

Some tribes are administering drive-thru voter registrations to help Native Americans who want to register for the 2020 election. Ferguson-Bohnee also believes having more in-person early voting options available would help those who are fearful of the spread of COVID-19.

“People who are gonna vote are really committed to voting,” Ferguson-Bohnee said.

The Native American Voting Rights Coalition conducted a survey and found that Native Americans have a lack of trust in the government. Yet, the goal of many Native American leaders is to encourage their tribes to participate and have a voice in the system

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Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, ASU Law Professor

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