The ability to vote is one of the most basic rights every American citizen can claim as their own. It is one, through years of protest and activism, which has become not only a hallmark of democracy, but of equality. The right to vote, and the ability to do so, represents the most basic element of a government in which the people have the ability to govern themselves. Yet today, across the country, and especially here in Montana, American Indians are being denied their rights to basic voting practices which are common amongst other populations. Currently, there is a suit that has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is fighting for the installation of satellite voting centers on every reservation in Montana. Representatives of Northern Cheyenne, Crow, and Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes filed the suit in 2012 when the state denied a request to install satellite voting offices on several reservations. Satellite voting offices allow for early voting, a practice that increases voter access and enables people who are unable to get to the polls on election day to still cast a vote.
Historically, there have been many barriers to American Indian civil rights, and while many of those barriers are no longer legally in place, there are plenty of contemporary barriers to equal access for American Indian. In the matter of late registration and early voting, Montana voters can begin late registration 30 days before an election and drop off absentee ballots at county offices.
In rural areas there aren’t county offices where late registration and early voting can take place. These offices tend to be near county seats. Additionally, on the day of an election many American Indians are put at a disadvantage when they have to travel as many as 100 miles to reach a polling center.
It is a significant barrier when anyone is forced to travel long distances in order to exercise their right to vote. In past Montana elections, the Indian vote could have swung the results of close elections.
The installation of satellite voting offices would serve a population of voters who are currently at a disadvantage compared to other voters who have greater access to voting mechanisms. County officials have balked at the idea of installing satellite offices, citing budget shortages and a lack of facilities. However, according to Dustin Monroe, executive director of Western Native Voice, an American Indian voting rights nonprofit, the facilities and funds already exist.
Full Article: Voting access must extend to all Americans.