In March 2019, the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA) was re-introduced in Congress by co-authors then-U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and then-U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), now a U.S. senator who succeeded Udall, to make the long-awaited bill the law of the land.
The proposed bill was described as “landmark legislation that would provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to the electoral process.”
In August, the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 (NAVRA) was introduced in Congress and has been endorsed by multiple tribal organizations including the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and Running Strong for American Indian Youth® partner the Sacred Pipe Resource Center.
An August 12 letter from the tribal organizations to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, states:
“We, the undersigned tribal organizations, strongly endorse the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 (NAVRA). No bill goes further to protect Native voting rights in upcoming election cycles.
“NAVRA seeks to address the most egregious inequities faced by our communities when attempting to vote. As tribal organizations and organizations dedicated to getting out the Native vote, we have witnessed firsthand the unreasonable barriers that hinder Native Americans’ ability to cast a ballot.”
The organizations note that the obstacles faced by their communities are extensively documented.
“Too often, our tribal citizens are forced to travel far from our communities to vote. Often our homes are not addressed which makes registering difficult and error prone. Our homes may not receive residential mail delivery which makes picking up and dropping off a ballot difficult. And yet, our communities have less access to ballot drop boxes, registration opportunities, or polling sites.
“The Native vote matters and when these barriers are removed Native Americans do vote.”
A NAVRA flyer produced by NARF notes that the United States has a trust responsibility to enact voting rights legislation to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right of Native Americans to vote.
“Despite the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 and the Nationality Act in 1940, Native American voters continue to face unique challenges when exercising their right to vote, including, but not limited to, the adverse effects of voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, disparate treatment, and discriminatory tactics.
“Congress MUST PASS NAVRA to protect Native voting rights,” states NARF, noting that NAVRA provides a customized approach for the distinctive needs of Native American voters on tribal lands, and it is based on tribes unique legal status under federal law and intended to address the barriers to Native voting.
In addition, NAVRA also complements the protective measures set forth in the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4).
“NAVRA must be included in any voting rights legislation that moves this session.”
Key provisions of NAVRA include:
Creating Native American voting task forces to address the unique voting issues in Indian Country;
Improving access to voter registration, polling places and drop boxes in Indian Country;
Streamlining the process for adding polling places on tribal lands;
Providing much-needed uniformity for voting on tribal lands in federal elections;
Requiring the acceptance of tribally or federally-issued ID if ID is required, such as those provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or Indian Health Service;
Culturally-appropriate language assistance;
Permitting tribes to designate buildings to be used as addresses to register;
Providing provisional voting accessibility in federal elections requiring the state to provide a reason for rejection of provisional ballot;
Allowing for permission to deliver voting materials such as voter registration, absentee ballots, and sealed ballots.
NAVRA is named in honor of, and to recognize the efforts of, Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo, three late fighters for Native American voting rights in their communities and states.
Frank Harrison was a World War II Veteran who lived in the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona and who in 1947 went to the registrar’s office on Maricopa County to attempt to register to vote. He, along with tribal chairman Harry Austin, were denied registration by the county recorder, Roger Laveen, who cited a decision by Arizona Supreme Court that said American Indians were “persons under guardianship” and ineligible to vote in elections. The dispute led to the Arizona Supreme Court case Harrison v. Laveen which overturned the earlier decision by the court that American Indians were ineligible to vote.
Elizabeth Peratrovich was a member of the Tlingit Nation who worked for equality on behalf of Alaska Natives. In the 1940s, her advocacy was credited with being instrumental in the passing of Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first state or territorial anti-discrimination enacted in the United States. In 1988, Alaska Governor Steve Cowper established April 21 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day “for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska, which was later changed to February 16 in observance of the day in 1945 when the act was approved. The Peratrovich family papers chronicling her civil rights work are currently held at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Miguel Trujillo was instrumental to the case Trujillo v. Garley in 1948. Before the case, New Mexico, like many other states, had a ruling that “Indians not taxed” were not legally allowed to vote. Trujillo was a World War II Marine Corps veteran who started a legal and political campaign to advocate for the voice of Native Americans. After returning from the war, he was confronted with the harsh reality that although he was a citizen and a veteran, he was not allowed to vote in the country in which he served after being turned down by county registrar Eloy Garley when he tried to register. Trujillo sued and a three-judge panel in Albuquerque ruled in his favor.
At Running Strong for American Indian Youth® we support equal rights for all Native Americans and endorse passage of NAVRA along with NARF, NCAI, and all the other tribal organizations seeking to expand voting rights throughout Indian Country.