ABA Midyear Meeting

Pass laws making it easier for Native Americans and those without addresses to vote, ABA House urges

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Ahead of this year’s presidential election, the ABA House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a pair of resolutions that aim to increase voter participation and minimize voter suppression at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, on Monday.

Resolution 112, submitted by the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, urges jurisdictions to remove barriers for Native Americans and Alaska Natives by providing equal access to voter registration and polling sites, treating tribal identification cards the same as state and local identification cards, notifying and obtaining consent from tribal leaders before moving or closing registration or polling locations on their lands and providing adequate language assistance to voters.

There are 573 federally recognized tribes and hundreds of state recognized tribes in the United States, and according to the 2010 census, 5.2 million people identified as American Indian and/or Alaska Native, according to the report that accompanies the resolution.

A study by the National Congress of American Indians, also cited in the report, showed that 34% of American Indians and Alaska Natives are not registered to vote, versus 26.5% of non-Hispanic whites. This means that 1.2 million eligible Native Americans are missing from the voter rolls.

Mark Schickman, a delegate from the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section and of counsel with Freeland Cooper & Foreman in San Francisco, spoke in favor of the resolution. He pointed out that Native Americans did not become citizens until 1924, none had the right to vote until 1948 and were not guaranteed the right to vote in every state until 1962.

“Ever since then, they have been facing challenges to the right to vote,” he said. “There are challenges to ID cards not being adequate, literacy issues and interpretation issues,” as well as long distances to travel to vote or even register to vote.

The resolution also urges the federal government to provide tribal leaders access to federal election observers, require the Department of Justice to consult annually with tribes on voting issues and establish a Native American Voting Rights Task Force under the Department of Justice to provide grant funds to increase voter education, registration and participation in tribal communities.

Additionally, the resolution calls on Congress to pass the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2019 or similar legislation to improve access to voting for Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

The resolution is co-sponsored by the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, Commission on Disability Rights, Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities, Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, National Conference of Specialized Court Judges, National Native American Bar Association, Section of State and Local Government Law and Standing Committee on Election Law.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2020 ABA Midyear Meeting here.

Resolution 114 focuses on the disenfranchisement of otherwise qualified voters caused by traditional address requirements for voter registration.

The resolution, submitted by the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, urges jurisdictions to allow a post office box; the address of a tribal building, shelter or local government building; or a general description of where a person lives to be used instead of a residential address for voting purposes.

The resolution also urges jurisdictions to enact legislation or regulations that assign a voter to the precinct in which he or she can be found, whether it is expressed by a traditional address or a nontraditional identifier.

Estelle Rogers, a delegate from the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section and the chair of the Standing Committee on Election Law, introduced the resolution to the House of Delegates. She contended that the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters who lack a traditional street address—including Native Americans living on reservations, people who are homeless or living on unnamed rural roads or even urban voters who have undependable mail service—continues.

In recent years, many states have passed stricter voter ID laws or imposed tougher registration requirements. According to data cited in the report accompanying the resolution, 18 states require a mailing address for voter registration.

Rogers pointed out that this is especially an under-recognized problem for Native Americans, whose voter turnout rates are the lowest in the country compared to other ethnic groups.

The Navajo Nation, which covers parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, doesn’t have an addressing program, according to the report that accompanies the resolution. Many voters on rural reservations in North Dakota also lack street addresses, and only 18% of voters on reservations in Arizona receive mail at home.

Two recent lawsuits challenged a voter ID law in North Dakota that required a residential mailing address, but Rogers told the House she was happy to report that a consent decree was filed last week ensuring that Native Americans could vote without an ID showing a residential address.

“For this year’s elections and in the future, the tribes of North Dakota will have different rules in effect that hopefully will not disenfranchise them anymore,” she said. “But would-be voters in other states, whether Native American, homeless or rural, aren’t so lucky.”

The resolution is co-sponsored by the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section, Section of State and Local Government Law, Commission on Homelessness and Poverty and National Native American Bar Association.

Resolutions 112 and 114 are consistent with the ABA’s commitment to greater and more equal access to voting.

Since the 1970s, the House of Delegates has adopted policy that focused on increasing voter participation, improving voter registration and enhancing the Voting Rights Act. It also passed a resolution that supports participation by people who are homeless in the electoral process.

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