Across the country some 100 million people do not vote. One study projects that at least 30 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives are not registered to vote.
Today is a good day to change that. This week, and September 25, are National Voter Registration Day and Week. Follow this link to the NativeVote.Org to get started, it’s a two minute application. (Not every state offers online registration, but a completed form can still be submitted.)
A recent survey of voting rights by the Native American Rights Fund found that too many people don’t know how to register. The report, by the The Native American Voting Rights Coalition, states, “Voting Barriers Encountered by Native Americans in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and South Dakota,” and the lack of information about the process was the most cited reason in all four states. “The second most cited reason in all four states at a fairly consistent rate was missing the deadline, and the third was a lack of interest in politics.”
Thus the coalition said, one of its goals is increasing Native interest in governing.
One problem is that the rules are different in every state. Some states allow for same-day registration, you show up to the polls, register, and then vote. Others however have registration deadlines that are 30 days or so before an election -- that is a deadline of next week.
This is a problem that could have many solutions. Voter registration drives help. And governments could make it easier to vote by registering voters when people renew or apply for a drivers’ license or receive another government service.
“The surveys found that there were very few voter registration drives in the Native community compared to other communities of color, and a low level of compliance with the National Voter Registration Act requirement that clients at DMVs and social service agencies must offer voter registration assistance to anyone they are helping,” the Native American Voting Rights Coalition report said.
“Of the four states, it was clear that Arizona and New Mexico were not complying with the National Voter Registration Act requirements of DMV and social service agencies to affirmatively offer to help clients register to vote at each interaction with the agency. Only 42 percent of Arizona respondents indicated they were asked about registering at the DMV and 35 percent at social service agencies. In New Mexico, a state that has been sued over its non-compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, cites that only 29 percent indicated they were asked about registration at the DMV and only 29 percent were asked at social services. South Dakota was better with respondents indicating 61 percent had been asked at the DMV and 44 percent at social services. In Nevada, the numbers were 73 percent at DMVs and 28 percent at social services.” The Native American Voting Rights Coalition said it’s essential that state and local agencies meet their legal obligations to improve registration.
The key point here: It should be so easy to register to vote that you hardly think about the process. But that’s not happening.
One interesting finding from the survey: “There were also pronounced differences between anecdotes expressed in the urban areas as opposed to those on reservations. Urban respondents, particularly in the Reno-Sparks area, were quite adamant in pointing out that they were treated fairly,” the coalition report said. “A woman at the Indian Health Clinic in Reno commented on the urban/rural differences in access, noting that she lived near a polling place in Reno, but that relatives who lived further away on remote reservations did not.”
Young people remain the greatest opportunity when it comes to expanding the Native vote. “American Indians and Alaska Natives have the youngest population of any racial/ethnic group in the United States, with those under the age of 25 making up 42 percent of the total American Indian and Alaska Native population,” says NativeVote.org. “Every four years, almost half a million Native young people turn 18 and become eligible to vote. This provides an opportunity to engage one-in-ten Native people as new voters.” (Get the NativeVote toolkit here.)
The data shows that states with online voter registration do a better job of attracting young voters. The Center for American Progress says the popularity of online voter registration with young people in particular is due, at least in part, to that group’s familiarity with the internet. And, as new generations become more accustomed to using web-based services, reliance on online voter registration may increase in the future.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports
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