Since May 2015, there have been multiple legislative efforts to pass new voting rights legislation aimed at ensuring access to voting for American Indians and Alaska Natives, including a rare move by the Department of Justice, entitled “Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act of 2015,” as well as the Native American Voting Rights Act introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).
Additionally, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, a bipartisan effort which seeks a legislative remedy to the Holder decision, was also introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), in June, and later co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and 41 other senators. The legislation died in committee, however, after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) voiced his opposition to updating the VRA, telling the Roanoke Times that there has been “no evidence” of discrimination and that no changes were necessary.
Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan told the Congressional Black Caucus that while he “disagreed” with Goodlatte’s decision, he was unwilling to bring the bipartisan bill to a vote on the House floor.
Tester, who sponsored both the Native American Voting Rights Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act, said that in spite of legislative inertia on the subject that he intends to work with both his colleagues in Congress and the tribes in ensuring Native access to the electoral process.
“For too long, needless hurdles have blocked families in Indian country from making their voices heard at the ballot box, and for too long Congress has refused to do anything about it,” Tester told ICTMN. “I’ll continue pushing my legislation that will give Native Americans an equal say in our democracy because no one should be denied their constitutional right to vote.”