In November, voters will see a record number of Native American candidates on the ballot running for all areas of government: state legislatures, governorships and Congressional seats. Today, just 81 Native Americans hold office in state legislatures across the U.S. No Native women or Alaska Natives have ever held Congressional office, but that could change this year, with five Native women running for the U.S. House, and many more on a state level nationwide. In Western states, Native voters make up significant voting blocs. The Indigenous voting population is also young and growing, and with that comes political potential.
Still, Native American turnout in the 2012 election was low, between 5 percent and 15 percent lower than other groups depending on the location. While Native Americans gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1924, state elections didn’t come until later. Utah was among the last states to allow Native Americans to participate in state elections, beginning in 1956. Long after that, Native Americans still face roadblocks like inequitable voter identification laws. Here are five issues tribal citizens face in casting their votes:
1. Non-traditional mailing addresses and distance to in-person voting
A high number of tribal members live in rural areas far from in-person voting locations, meaning they rely on mail-in ballots. But while those are gaining popularity in some states, they present a myriad of problems for tribal citizens who don’t have mailing addresses, live far from their P.O. boxes and check them irregularly, or who move often. That has heavy impacts on turnout: In a series of hearings, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition, a non-partisan Native rights organization, found that many who were supposed to vote by mail never received a ballot.