A coalition of groups representing Americans yesterday declared a “state of emergency” on voting rights in the U.S. and said that millions of people could be disenfranchised by restrictive voter laws.
“We are witnessing the greatest assault on voting in over a century. A spate of new laws and practices have effectuated a trifecta of voter suppression, making it harder to register to vote, to cast a ballot, and to have a vote counted, said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Protect Our Vote Advancement Project. “Not since the post-Reconstruction era that heralded poll taxes and literacy tests has there been so much government action conditioning access to vote. These new laws could impede access to the ballot box for millions of eligible voters in 2012.”
The coalition says it’s important for voters to know the new rules in each state. “Many Americans will travel to the polls on Election Day only to find out their vote won’t count. Get ahead of the curve and find out what the law is in your state,” the website says. It links to an interactive map with details of each state’s voting laws.
In South Dakota, for example, a tribal photo ID is sufficient for a voter to cast a ballot. That state also offers “no excuse” absentee voting, and ballots are available six weeks before Election Day.
The National Congress of American Indians is a member of the coalition. “Over the last century since securing our rightful place at the ballot box, Native people have remained one of the most disenfranchised groups of voters in the United States. Today as a result, two out of every five eligible American Indian and Alaska Native voters are not registered to vote, in 2008 over 1 million eligible Native voters were unregistered.”
A report by Demos in June said “even in relatively recent times, state governments found ways to deny American Indians and Alaska Natives the right to vote outright.”
That report said South Dakota denied Indians the right to vote as late as 1975 “by claiming that people residing in “unorganized counties” were not eligible to vote. The three unorganized counties were Todd, Shannon, and Washabaugh—counties overwhelmingly comprised of American Indians.”
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.