Native Americans warn of voter suppression in U.S. 

April 23, 2022 - 18:20

Native Americans have sounded the alarm over a host of congressional bills that they say will suppress their right to vote. 

Rights groups advocating for the now minority group say measures including restricting and limiting voter registration as well as absentee ballot practices threaten to deprive tens of thousands of tribal citizens from the ballot boxes.

The concern over minority groups in America and their right to vote freely, fairly, and without restrictions or harassment policies has been growing stronger since the summer of last year; when the House Administration Committee itself found a lack of available polling places was disproportionately likely to impact Native American voters. 

In a very lengthy report, the committee acknowledged that firstly Americans in general “have not enjoyed equal access to the ballot. Indeed, only a small fraction of the population cast ballots in the election elevating George Washington as our first president.”

It identified voter identification and documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements “disproportionately burden minority voters,” saying “the burden of these requirements disproportionately fall on Black, Latino, Asian American, and Native American voters, and newly naturalized citizens. Recent studies have demonstrated that Black and Latino voters are less likely to have access to birth certificates and passports, documents often required to establish proof of citizenship, than White voters.”

The report cited an example whereby minority groups would face greater barriers to registration than White voters under proof-of-citizenship laws.

It also documented that since 2012, more than 1,600 polling places for Native Americans have been closed. 

And despite the lengthy report, nothing has been done to address the matters rather measures have been taken to worsen them. 

Many of the laws that have been recently passed used former U.S. President Donald Trump’s arguments of fraud over his 2020 Presidential election to campaign in favor of less access to the ballot boxes.

The end result, analysts say, regardless of whether the American election was rigged or not is having a disproportionate toll on Native American voters and other minority groups suffering the costs. 

The biggest measures disproportionately target Native American voters who are older, rural, and impoverished.

One of the biggest ironies is that Native Americans have resided in the United States for far longer than there has been the United States. 

Because some are born outside of a hospital setting, which is said to be a common practice for the older generations, they may not have a birth certificate.

In many countries who value human rights there are simple methods to address this issue and allow this category of people the right to vote; but not in the U.S. it seems where the Native American Rights Fund is considering lawsuits against a new round of bills that require voters to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

Does that mean the Native American who has been living in the United States before there was the United States is no longer a citizen to the extent they are not eligible to vote in some states? 

Voting should be an easy process and an alienable right in every country with an accessible process for voters, not a complicated one. 

Recently in America and in 48 states, more than 400 anti-voter bills have been introduced. These bills are making it harder and harder for people to register to vote, vote by mail, or vote in person basically creating unnecessary barriers. 

At the end of the day, this is going to severely compromise a democratic process and goes against the will of the people that are being targeted. 

Democracy works best when all eligible voters, regardless of ethnic background are able to participate and have their voices heard. 

In other words, and something which critics have regularly been arguing, the United States is not a democracy. 

The two laws passed earlier this year in the state of Montana faced a challenge by the Native American Rights Fund, along with the ACLU and Harvard Law School’s Election Law Clinic, who argued the laws will have a  direct impact on the Native American's rights to vote.

Other states have passed measures requiring photo identification to vote. The list of acceptable documents they have adopted includes tribal government identifications, though those documents do not always come with photographs, and many Native Americans living in rural areas rely on post office boxes because their homes do not have regular street addresses. 

This year in Arizona, one such bill that was passed tightened identification requirements.

Allison Neswood, a staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund says “structural barriers are impacting Native people’s abilities to vote. We felt like Native issues were being both misunderstood and overlooked at the state level, even by voting rights advocates because our populations can be small.”

Arizona state Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, a member of the Navajo Nation told U.S. media “our tribal ID probably won’t meet the requirements outlined in the bill in that not all tribal IDs have photos or we don’t have physical addresses,” she says, adding that she feels “directly attacked when we see things like this.”

Blackwater-Nygren added, “when I tell these stories when I explain to lawmakers, GOP members specifically, I’m told they do know when they were born and it’s ridiculous that anybody wouldn’t know what day they were born.”

What should be of major concern to U.S. authorities is the plight of Native American voters and the poverty they endure in mostly rural tribal lands, many of which are miles away not only from government facilities but even from paved roads.

This is a clear example of a barrier to accessing a ballot box that doesn’t appear to concern Washington. Those who live so far from modern infrastructure are less likely to have access to transportation, while public transport is literally nonexistent. “Poverty is really costly for folks. It means that people are using a higher percentage of their financial resources, emotional resources, mental resources on just the basics,” Neswood said. “That can make disproportionally hard voting requirements just not worth it for some people.”

The other main issue is that Native Americans can play a crucial role in the voting process. In Arizona for example, which President Biden won by just 11,000 votes, the participation of Native Americans helped swing the state from one party to another. 

Many pundits outside the United States have come out and stated American foreign policy does not change with a Democrat president or a Republican one but why should ethnic minority groups suffer from issues that concern domestic policy. 

Suppression voting efforts has been emerging in many different methods and practices in the U.S.  Restricting the terms and requirements of registration is one of the most common forms.

Then comes also the issue of racism among the police and broader criminal “legal” system, criminalization of the ballot box disproportionately impacts people of color, who are more likely to be penalized. Analysts say this method of voter suppression aims to fuel fear in communities of color and prevent them from voting. 

Since last year, Americans witnessed a flurry of activity among state legislatures as they enacted laws that made it harder to vote.

Critics say Republicans and Democrats are both to blame and both behind such plots to win the upcoming elections at the expense of minority groups.

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