How far do you travel to vote in elections, perhaps a few miles at most? Well how would you cope with a 163 mile journey that residents of the Goshute reservation in Utah have to deal with. It’s not an isolated incident either all across the US many isolated Native American reservations have very limited access to polling stations. Even worse in Alaska, a reorganisation of stations meant that some native Americans had to get a plane to get to a station as none were accessible by road, fortunately that position was rectified.
When you combine it with other issues like lack of early voting and the expense it does mean that for many native Americans access to their right to vote is severely curtailed. It is obviously an important part of any democracy access to use that right to vote is available. Just as in the UK where people abroad or living away can access their vote by the post and even soon to be over the internet. Which means that the expat will not only be able to watch their BBC in Spain – like this, but also have a say in the Government.
For the Native Americans, using mail is not always a viable option – in some reservations illiteracy rates are extremely high sometimes up to 17 times the national average. This is not a reflection on the educational standards simply that many people use their native language and often don’t even go to English speaking schools. In addition the mail service in some reservations is highly insecure and often people have to travel a long way to pick up their mail too.
In Alaska, if you post something to a very rural reservation it can literally take several weeks which is impractical for dealing with ballots. Sending out the initial form and returning it by mail isn’t feasible considering the time scales involved. When it has been tried there have been some spectacular failures including once when 2500 ballot papers were stranded in a post office because they had inadequate postage – all these people lost their vote that year.
The right to vote is protected in law via section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – it basically means that it is illegal to use practices which discriminate on the basis of race, color or language minority. However it’s important that people are not forced into complicated and expensive legal recourse in order to protect their rights. There is a history of denying basic rights to the American and Alaskan Native communities their basic rights so it’s vital that the right to vote on a both moral and practical level should be preserved.