New Report: Expanding the Native Vote through Indian Health Service

Release Date: 
June 19, 2012

NEW YORK – Almost two out of five American Indians and Alaska Natives eligible to vote are not registered, but according to a new report by national policy center Demos, designating Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities as official voter registration agencies under the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) would go a long way toward addressing this civic crisis.

“Our democracy is stronger when all of our citizens participate, and this is all the more true in the case of American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

“Ensuring Access to the Ballot for American Indians and Alaska Natives: New Solutions to Strengthen American Democracy,” by Senior Democracy Fellow Tova Wang, demonstrates how offering voter registration at IHS facilities (primarily run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) could directly reach more than 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who are served by these facilities.  Providing voter registration through public agencies has a strong record of success: In states where public assistance agencies have properly implemented voter registration services under the NVRA, registration applications have increased as much as 18-fold.

State governments, as the report documents, have found ways to directly deny American Indians and Alaska Natives the right to vote as recently as the 1970s.  Even today, discrimination and disenfranchisement continue. Combined with cultural and other historical reasons for low voter participations rates, structural hurdles to voting -- such as the voter registration system -- have translated into lower turnout rates -- 5 to 14 percent lower -- than almost any other racial or ethnic group, even when socio-economic factors are controlled.  [Infographic: http://bit.ly/KYe6ak]

“Our democracy is stronger when all of our citizens participate, and this is all the more true in the case of American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Wang. “The low level of participation is particularly salient given the historical mistreatment of the American Indian community. Government has a particular responsibility to reduce unnecessary structural barriers to voting among American Indian and Alaska Native populations.”

“Since the freedom to vote is how Americans, regardless of privilege or race, maintain power over decisions that affect their lives, our government must vigorously promote that freedom,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President of Legal Strategies at Demos. “Offering voter registration through IHS facilities would send an important message that American Indians and AlaskaNatives have the right to be heard at every level of government with respect to the issues that confront their families, tribes, and the country.”

Tova Andrea Wang and Brenda Wright are available for comment, please see the contact information above. To read the full report, which includes operational recommendations, visit: http://bit.ly/LX3D2n

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