Feb 05 2013

Truthout: From Arizona to Montana, Native Voters Struggle for Democracy

Four of the tightest Senate races took place in states with some of the largest percentages of Native Americans: Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and Montana. The Native vote in three of those states helped Democrats win key victories and maintain control of the Senate.

Yet the 2012 election in these states also revealed just how hard Native communities still must work to participate in democracy—and just how little they are getting in return for their organizing efforts. Natives around the country still face incredible barriers when trying to vote. Despite the Fourteenth Amendment, it wasn’t until the 1924 Snyder Act that all Natives were granted U.S. citizenship, which included the right to vote. It took some states up to 50 years to recognize that right and the ongoing struggle to cast ballots today often remains entrenched in the long history of disenfranchisement.

Don’t Vote Here

The problems in 2012 were legion and they began before voters even made it to the polls. In New Mexico, where the Native population grew more than 11 percent in the last decade, the state ran out of voter registration forms in six counties—half of them in counties with high Native populations. In Arizona, as I’ve previously reported, just setting up polling places involves a fight. Many Navajo, or Diné, must vote in one spot for federal elections and in another for tribal elections. The distances between them, in addition to the long lines reported at several precincts, can easily take several hours to traverse. Many voters didn’t have that kind of time and were essentially forced to choose in which election they would participate.

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