Voting Rights Come Slowly

Inconsistent access to citizenship continued in 1919 when Congress passed an act that granted citizenship to the 7,000 American Indians who served in the armed forces during WWI and received an honorable discharge.

Finally, in June of 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act into law. Though nearly two-thirds of all Indian people had acquired U.S. citizenship, the act granted full U.S. citizenship to all Indian people in the country; almost 125,000 Native people immediately became U.S. citizens. In 1927, Coolidge became the first U.S. President to visit a reservation community when he traveled to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.

Voting Rights Not Guaranteed, Tools of Suppression Used

The Indian Citizenship Act did not guarantee voting rights to Indian people.

Several states objected to Indian voting and used loopholes in the law to prevent American Indian access to the ballot box. Some states did not allow Indians to vote because, though they were granted citizenship at the federal level, they were not considered citizens of the state.

Other states used residency restrictions (because most American Indian people still lived on reservations), taxation requirements (many American Indian people who lived on reservations did not pay state and/or federal taxes), literacy tests, and “self-determination” requirements (requiring Indian people to fully assimilate and abandon “traditional” ways) to prevent American Indian people from voting.

Some of these tactics were the same as what was being used to prevent African Americans from voting.

In 1962, New Mexico became the last state to allow American Indian people the right to vote. The battle for access to the ballot box and political representation continues today for many American Indians.