“We can make it [voting] as easy as we want, but if somebody doesn’t feel like it matters then they’re not going to vote.”— Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr.
Organization discusses difficulties for Native voters
TULSA, Oklahoma— Native Americans have one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. There is, however, a growing effort to remedy this disparity
The Native American Voting Rights Coalition held a field hearing Feb 23, which was open to the public, at the University of Tulsa’s College of Law.
The TU hearing was the sixth of nine hearings planned in different regions across the country, regions with large populations of Natives.
The purpose of these hearings is to educate people on the many barriers that prevent Native Americans from being able to participate fully and effectively in the political process.
“We’ve really come across a wide range of issues and we’re here to record these voices,” Native American Rights Fund lawyer Jacqueline De Leon said.
Some common issues discussed were voter registration, language barriers, voter IDs, redistricting issues and accessibility to polling locations.
Along with these conditional barriers there was another intangible obstacle that was mentioned more than once: a lack of belief in the system.
“We can make it [voting] as easy as we want, but if somebody doesn’t feel like it matters then they’re not going to vote,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.
The day was not only to identify the obstacles, but also to share successes that can be replicated across Indian Country.
De Leon emphasized the need to ‘start somewhere,’ pointing out the lack of Native representation at all levels of government.
“You can have a voice on things like school boards or county commissions that can make noticeable changes in your everyday life,” she said.
At the center of the day’s discussions was identifying the need for Natives to collectively take a more proactive role at every stage of the political process.
“If you come together you can present Native candidates, get elected to things and make Native agendas,” De Leon said.
NAVRC’s field hearings are scheduled to conclude in April of this year in Calif.
For more information on NAVRC visit narf.org.