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Protecting the Indigenous Vote in Nevada

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Thursday, October 1, 2020   

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- This year's coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for many Americans to vote in the Nov. 3 election, but voting obstacles are not new for those living in Indian country.

Native American reservations have what's called non-standard mail service, which means they don't have mailboxes or receive residential mail delivery, and instead travel to a postal-provider office, sometimes a gas station or mini-mart.

Jacqueline De León, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said indigenous people live much farther from polling locations than non-Natives.

"It's much more difficult than the average American can conceive of, to vote in Indian country," De León explained. "Native Americans have a decrease in post office hours and they also have their ballots travel further."

De León added fewer transportation options, a lack of internet access and other socio-economic factors also play a role in whether indigenous people vote.

She said it's not uncommon for Native Americans to travel up to 200 miles to register to vote or reach their polling place.

In August, Nevada lawmakers expanded mail-in voter laws to address challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevada Assembly Bill 4 would allow non-family members to safely return a ballot for one another in the upcoming election. It also provides mechanisms for tribes to request early on-reservation polling locations.

De León said prior to the vote-by-mail primary in June, more than 90% of the indigenous population voted in person.

"There's already a history here of unequal access and then the tribes in this last primary election, which moved all to vote by mail, ended up having a decrease in turnout," De León added.

More than 52,000 people identify as Native Americans in Nevada.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled Nevada can move forward with its new vote-by-mail law, after rejecting a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump's re-election campaign to stop it.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Disclosure: Carnegie Corporation of New York contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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