Access to Voting for American Indians

The original language of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) focused on areas of the country that had a history of discrimination and racist voting laws. This meant the federal government sent officers to “problem areas” to make sure African Americans actually had access to the polls and weren’t met with violence. More Info on VRA.

Removing Language Barriers

In 1972 the VRA was amended to include a focus on areas of the United States with large American Indian populations. The VRA was amended again in 1975 to remove language barriers that made it very difficult for many AIAN populations to cast a ballot. The amendment was called a language-minority provision Requires that official documents (usually ballots) are available in the language of a minority group as well as in English that enforced and reaffirmed “the right to vote for such minority group citizens.”

This was important because if a person could not read the ballot, they could not exercise their right to vote. Prior to the 1975 amendment, American Indians were not protected by the language-minority provision.

Protecting AIAN Voting Rights

Despite these advances, there have been over 75 American Indian federal voting rights cases brought by or on behalf of AIAN people under the VRA in the 50 years since its passage.

States with large reservations and large AIAN populations have the most extensive history of conflicts over American Indian voting, including Alaska, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota.