by Christine Trudeau
The Native American Rights Fund has outlined ways to avoid potential voting barriers as states consider safety options during the COVID-19 pandemic. NARF organizers say any move to an entirely vote-by-mail system would be a big problem for Native voters, with the potential to disenfranchise many. Staff attorney Jacqueline DeLeon says inconsistent mail service is one reason vote-by-mail alone isn’t a good option.
“The way mail works in Indian Country is if you’re getting mail at all, it’s likely gonna be at a post office through a post office box that you might be sharing with fifteen other people,” DeLeon said. “I mean, that is not unheard of, just a lot of people sharing one post office box.”
DeLeon says it’s not uncommon for items to get misplaced or delivered to the wrong person in the process of picking up and distributing mail from a shared PO box, making the wait to get mail delivered longer, sometimes taking up to a month.
In light of this and other challenges facing voters on access and safety, NARF put out a guide advocating specific changes that could help many Native voters, like maintaining in-person voting with added safety measures.
“An in-person voting option can be controlled,” DeLeon said. “You can have PPE sanitation practices; you can do curb-side voting. You can utilize Native community members and say that they’re the ones that are running the polls to reduce the introduction of outside people, and that kind of controlled environment is better than this hodge-podge way that people get mail in Indian Country now.”
DeLeon is co-author of NARFs recent voting rights report detailing multiple barriers many Native Americans face. NARFs other recommends include increasing the number of ballot collection boxes available through election day, tribes designating buildings to pick up and drop off ballots, early voting hours for elderly and people with compromised immunity, and creating a robust educational outreach campaign to tribal communities on any updates to the voting process.
This story is a collaboration with National Native News and the Solutions Journalism Network