Groups record voting-rights abuses against Native Americans

In the West and elsewhere, tribes successfully have challenged what they see as discriminatory voting practices around the United States.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Election sites far from reservations. Poll workers who don’t speak tribal languages. Unequal access to early voting sites.

Native Americans say they have encountered a wide range of obstacles to voting. Advocates have been spending the last few months gathering stories from around Indian Country in the hope that tribal members can wield more influence in elections and to improve conditions among populations that encounter huge disparities in health, education and economics.

“Some of the problems they were facing actually were issues we thought we’d taken care of long ago,” said OJ Semans, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member and executive director of South Dakota-based voting-rights group Four Directions. “If you don’t keep your eye open and the communication open, things will reverse.”

Tribes successfully have challenged what they see as discriminatory voting practices around the United States.

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In Utah, a federal judge recently ordered school board and county commission districts redrawn after the Navajo Nation argued they had been divided by race. In Nevada, the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute tribes won a legal battle to improve early voting access on their reservations. Alaska Natives reached a settlement in a case that includes increased language assistance for three areas.

When working with local election officials doesn’t work, tribes often turn to the 1965 Voting Rights Act to try to force changes, said James Tucker, a pro bono attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.

The group is part of a coalition holding field hearings nationwide before the next round of redistricting to compile what it believes will be the most comprehensive look at voting-rights abuses in Indian Country.

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