ACLU Report Finds Continuing And Pervasive Voting Rights Violations In Indian Country

October 1, 2009 12:00 am

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Report Provides Historical Overview Of American Indian Struggle For Access To The Polls

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ATLANTA – American Indians continue to face discriminatory policies and actions that deny them their constitutional right to vote, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report provides a historical overview of systemic discrimination against American Indians limiting their ability to participate in local, state and national elections and highlights ACLU litigation challenging unlawful election practices on behalf of Indians in five western states: Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

“Though the movement for equal rights has led to dramatic gains for Indian voters and transformed elected bodies that serve Indian communities, much work remains,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and one of the principal authors of the report. “Well into the 20th century, American Indians’ status as U.S. citizens was questioned across the U.S., and they continue to struggle against ongoing disfranchisement and discriminatory election practices that prevent them from participating equally in the political process.”

Indian voters have faced the most extreme barriers to voting in this country and were denied the right to vote longer than any other community in the U.S. The report outlines still existing obstacles to Indian voting, including electoral systems that dilute Indian voting strength; discriminatory voter registration procedures; onerous voter identification requirements; lack of language assistance at the polls; and noncompliance with the Voting Rights Act. The report analyzes the history of these policies and others, including the refusal to recognize Indians as U.S. citizens.

The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 played a central role in tearing down barriers to American Indian political participation, particularly Sections Two and Five, which prohibit voting policies and procedures that deprive minorities of equal opportunity in the political process and require certain jurisdictions to “preclear” any changes in voting processes. The report highlights ACLU litigation that relied on the Act to successfully challenge a variety of discriminatory electoral systems and policies.

The report also offers recommendations on voter education, enhanced registration efforts and assistance, fair election systems, redistricting that does not dilute Indian voting strength and compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

“Every American deserves an equal voice in the political process,” said McDonald. “The effects of discrimination against Indians continue and so must the fight for the fundamental right to vote. Compliance with the Voting Rights Act is not optional.”

In addition to McDonald, the report’s authors include Nancy Abudu, Meredith Bell-Platts, Neil Bradley, Donna Matern, Fred McBride, Katie O’Connor, Bryan Sells and Brian Sutherland of the ACLU Voting Rights Project.

The report can be found at:

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