Luján Leads Introduction of the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021
Commentary: U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, led his colleagues in introducing the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 (NAVRA) – landmark voting rights legislation that will protect the sacred right to vote and ensure equal access to the electoral process for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and voters living on Tribal lands.
Senator Luján previously led the House re-introduction of NAVRA during the 116th Congress alongside former U.S. Senator Tom Udall. Companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Representatives Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Tom Cole (R-OK).
The United States has a trust responsibility to enact voting rights legislation to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed right of Native Americans to vote. However, Native American voters have historically faced unique challenges when exercising their right to vote. Geographic isolation, non-traditional mailing addresses, lack of residential mail delivery, lack of affordable and reliable broadband service, limited transportation, less access to polling and registration sites than those not located on Tribal lands, Native language translation needs, and poverty are just some of the distinct issues confronting Native voters that demand a legislative solution.
NAVRA would enact key measures, such as allowing Tribes to specify the number and locations of requested voter registration sites, drop boxes and polling locations on Tribal lands, and authorizing Tribal ID cards for voting purposes. The bill would also help establish state-level Native American voting task forces to address the unique voting issues faced by voters on Tribal lands by authorizing a $10 million Native American Voting Rights Task Force grant program. It would also require prior Tribal notice and consent before States and precincts could remove, consolidate, or otherwise reduce access to voting locations on Tribal lands.
“Our Democracy is at its strongest when every American can participate and make their voice heard. But in too many communities across America, voter suppression efforts are making it harder for Americans to vote, especially for Native Americans who continue to experience geographic, linguistic, and legal barriers to voting. Congress has a moral imperative to protect the sacred right to vote and reduce barriers to the ballot box for voters living on Tribal lands,” said Senator Luján. “The Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act will empower more voters to participate in the electoral process, and I look forward to working with Representatives Davids and Cole to build support for this legislation.”
“Voting is the very foundation of our democracy, yet Native voters face repeated barriers at the ballot box, from considerable distance and unequal operating hours at polling places to lack of voter education. This bill further fulfills our federal trust responsibility to protect and promote Native Americans’ exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote,” said Representative Davids. “I am proud to continue what Senator Luján advanced during his time in the House along with my Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Tom Cole. I stand with my colleagues from both the House and the Senate on introducing this important and comprehensive piece of legislation that will ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to our democracy.”
“Alongside my colleagues Representative Davids and Senator Lujan, I am proud to introduce the Native American Voting Rights Act,” said Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04), Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “This legislation greatly improves the tools and resources available to help Native Americans exercise their right to vote, which is especially important for those living in rural areas.”
In addition to Luján, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Booker (D-N.J.), Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Feinstein (D-Calif), Heinrich (D-N.M), Hirono (D-Hawaii), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Merkley (D-Ore.), Padilla (D-Calif.), Rosen (D-Nev.), Sanders (I-Vt.), Schatz (D-Hawaii), Smith (D-Minn.), Tester (D- Mont.), Van Hollen (D-MD), and Warren (D-Mass.). More than 30 voting rights and Tribal organizations endorsed the legislation.
“This past decade, NARF has documented and fought against the targeted, present day obstacles that Native voters face when trying to cast a ballot. We are grateful to Senator Lujan and Congresswoman Davids for their leadership introducing legislation to create a baseline of voting access in Indian Country so that Native communities have a fair chance to cast their ballots with the same ease as other United States citizens. NARF strongly endorses this legislation that will create more equitable access for Native Americans,” said John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund.
“Many Native people living on reservations have to work incredibly hard, travel unreasonable distances, and make significant commitments of time, resources, and effort in order to vote,” said the Native American Voting Rights Coalition. “This legislation recognizes the unique challenges in Native communities and begins to address some of the systemic problems. The Native American Voting Rights Coalition is proud to endorse this important piece of legislation.”
“The Native American Voting Rights Act is a key piece of legislation in the ongoing work to protect and expand native voting rights throughout the country,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. “The Act highlights challenges faced by voters on tribal lands and empowers sovereign tribal governments to find appropriate solutions for their communities. I’m happy to endorse this legislation and I appreciate Senator Ben Ray Luján’s work in bringing it forward and seeking input from my office. I’m especially encouraged that many of the proposals in the Act track current New Mexico law which has some of the most protective voting rights laws in the country.”
“The All Pueblo Council of Governors fully endorses the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA) and respectfully asks Congress to fully execute its plenary and exclusive powers to legislate the removal of barriers afflicting access for American Indians to express our right to vote. By disarming the myriad of obstacles that undermine our path towards building political power, the passage of NAVRA is necessary for ensuring that our Native people are fully included as ‘qualified members of the modern body politic.’ In effect, this Native-enfranchisement legislation will increase the Native Vote on Election Day, because we will know that our votes are woven into the political fabric of national, state, and local elections,” said the All Pueblo Council of Governors.
“NM Native Vote is proud to support this important piece of legislation, this bill is a crucial step in closing the civic engagement gap for Native People all across the country. Native Peoples face significant and systemic obstacles in casting a ballot, but this is a meaningful beginning step in making sure that Native peoples are properly engaged and empowered in their voice, so that they may show up to make a change for their communities,” said New Mexico Native Vote. “We want to thank Senator Luján for sponsoring this bill and urge our leaders to support this legislation to address the systemic disadvantages that Native Peoples face in voting and to provide more equitable access to our democracy for everyone.”
The legislation is endorsed by the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Native American Voting Rights Coalition, Alaska Federation of Natives, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, National Indian Education Association, Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Coalition of Large Tribes, Advance Native Political Leadership, California Native Vote Project, North Dakota Native Vote, Four Directions, Las Vegas Indian Center, NDN Collective, Sacred Pipe Resource Center, Tribal Minds Inc., United Natives, All Pueblo Council of Governors, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Navajo Nation, American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Advancing Justice, Brennan Center for Justice, Fair Elections Center, NAACP (LDF), Campaign Legal Center, Demos, National Disability Rights Network, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.