This week is a great opportunity to remind the Native Vote community of the potential impact of voter registration at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities. Over 1.9 million Native people are served by IHS facilities and the vision of IHS to serve as community wellness centers that facilitate citizen access to the tools of democracy is a very attainable goal.
Native Vote partner Demos released a report this summer, Ensuring Access to the Ballot for American Indians & Alaska Nat..., which discusses the critical role that IHS facilities can play in helping Native people register to vote. Under the National Voter Registration Act, IHS facilities are able to join other public agencies (including Medicaid offices) in offering voter registration as part of the patient intake process.
NCAI’s and Native Vote have called for the direct implementation of voter registration by IHS facilities themselves. Some IHS facilities have already begun the process of incorporating voter registration in their business processes, seeing it as the most sustainable and comprehensive route to offering civic engagement opportunities to their patients.
As a first step, facilities can also serve as important venues for non-partisan voter registration activities carried out by community groups. IHS has confirmed their support for “nonpartisan voter assistance efforts, including voter registration activities at IHS facilities” as long as the voter registration activities do not compromise patient care and occur in neutral, publically accessible spaces. Some examples of good places to allow non-partisan voter registration activities by community groups are lobbies, entryways, and parking lots.
Action at the community level is an essential tool in efforts to increase Native civic participation- we encourage our local Native Vote partners to: