Access to Elections and Voter Registration a “Civic Emergency” for Native Americans says NCAI President

Lincoln, NE  –  Access to voting and voter registration for Native Americans is nearing a “civic emergency” and the nation’s leading tribal advocacy organization has called for immediate action. Addressing tribal, state, and federal government officials, Jefferson Keel the President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), outlined a set of solutions to increase access to the ballot box and voter registration for American Indian and Alaska Native voters. In addition to grassroots voter registration efforts, Keel called for the Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities to be added to the list of federal and state government service providers, which serve as voter registration sites.

“Over the last century since securing our rightful place at the ballot box, Native people have remained one of the most disenfranchised group of voters in the United States. Today as a result, only 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,” said Keel, President of NCAI, the nation’s oldest and most representative tribal advocacy organization.

“This should be considered a civic emergency – we should all be concerned: American Indians and Alaska Natives, tribal governments, state and federal governments, ordinary citizens. Today I’m offering a set of concrete actions we can take now to change this situation.”

Early in 2012, during NCAI’s State of Indian Nations Address, Keel called for the largest Native turnout in history. In remarks delivered at NCAI’s Mid Year Conference, he focused on the role of everyday citizens to register voters  and that call for Indian Country to participate in Native Vote, NCAI’s national non-partisan campaign. In his address he highlighted three opportunities for tribes and Native citizens to make Indian Country’s voice heard in 2012 and beyond. 

Keel announced a new partnership with national non-profit Rock the Vote, a partnership that allows the Native Vote campaign to provide resources for online voter registration through NativeVote.org.  Keel also announced, “Rock the Native Vote Youth Week” September 24-28, 2012, coinciding with National Voter Registration day on September 25. The week of events across the country will engage tribal schools and Native youth programs in a range of civics education, including a tribal specific supplement to Rock the Vote’s Democracy Day class. Participants, such as local chapters of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, will educate Native young people about the power of civic engagement and the importance of registering their parents, family members, and one day, themselves, to vote.

He also highlighted the “Tools for All” partnership initiated with State Voices – a national civic engagement network. The partnership offers the chance for tribes to access voter outreach tools that can identify tribal members who need to register and encourage all tribal citizens to make their voice heard.

“Finally and most importantly, our federal and state government partners should provide the same voter registration services offered in other government facilities. That’s why today I’m calling for state election officials to work with tribes and the federal government to ensure tribal citizens are offered the chance to vote when they visit an add Indian Health Service (IHS) facility,” stated Keel.  

President Keel cited a new report released by D?mos, a multi-issue national organization, outlining Native voter disenfranchisement and proposing IHS facilities as logical sites for voter registration. The report, Ensuring Access to the Ballot for American Indians & Alaska Natives: New Solutions to Strengthen American Democracy, states that “Appropriate IHS facilities should be designated as official voter registration agencies along the same lines as state based public assistance agencies are now designated under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

Keel announced he is sending a letter in support of the idea directly to every individual IHS facility, along with a copy of the report.

In the letter, Keel writes, “The Indian Health Service is a key agency in delivering on the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes. As outlined in the report, IHS facilities, conveniently and centrally located in many tribal communities, are ideal voter registration sites. Joining other federal and state agencies in offering this service to clients will make a large impact in tribal communities, in the national Native Vote and in furthering the fulfillment of the federal trust responsibility.

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