The Legality of the Voting Rights Act: An Equal Vote for Natives

by Vins

It has been over 50 years after the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Native Americans (both Indians and Alaska Natives) still do not possess equal access to voting polls, as Stephanie Woodward reports for In These Times.

Unequal voting access has produced lower voting turnout among Natives for two distinct reasons. The first being that voting polls lie off of reservations. This creates a myriad of extra costs including travel funds and loss of income. Many natives cannot afford the gas money needed to get to these polls as well as taking a half day off of work. The other sanction upon Native voting is fear. There have been accounts of numerous hate crimes, murders, and even police brutality against Natives in the surrounding areas off of reservations. This along with the language barrier cause the few Natives who can afford the travel expenditures to avoid voting for fear of the repercussions.

Equal voting rights are not limited simply to each person’s equal right to vote, but also entails the ease with which voting is possible. The two primary reasons for ignoring this issue lie in public policy. Larger Native voter turnout would cause a shift in power. This in turn could lead to a change in political agenda in local and state judiciaries. The other being that Native Americans tend to vote Democrat. Ironically, Democrats are the primary ones ignoring this issue due to the former reason. Speculation has it that although Democrats feel they would secure more votes with the Native Americans, the consequences would be serious due to this shift in power. More Natives would appear on local and state boards which would discourage non-natives of the surrounding areas to take part in public policy, thus reducing the Democrats’ current constituent pool.

Corporate media has not presented this civil rights dispute. A couple of state newspapers have presented this issue, including The Alaska Journal of Commerce and San Jose Mercury News, but as of November 2, 2014, this story has been significantly underreported in national coverage.

Source: Stephanie Woodard, “The Missing Native Vote,” In These Times, June 10, 2014. http://inthesetimes.com/article/16773/the_missing_native_vote.

Student Researchers: Malyq McElroy and Morgan McCracken (Pomona College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)