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LR-126 Compounds Voting Barriers Faced by American Indians

Imagine a people who don’t share your Ellis Island story.

Imagine a people who watched others invade the land they’d inhabited since time began.

Imagine these “others” forming governments who take your children to be assimilated.

Imagine getting excommunicated, forced to live on a reservation.

Imagine being granted citizenship to your own nation less than 100 years ago, then told to vote for a system that tried to exterminate your family.

Imagine driving an hour to get to the polls, then seeing an initiative that would make it even harder for you to vote in the future.

It’s a simple equation: make voter access harder and less people will vote. The initiative LR-126 seeks to do just that. If it passes, voters will no longer be able to update their information at the polls, like nearly 30,000 people have done since 2005 when same-day voter registration in Montana began. All registration would have to be completed by 5pm the Friday before Election Day.

But what about voters living in rural areas who don’t have the luxury of people standing on street corners with clipboards and wearing pink bunny ears? What about people living on reservations who have to drive an hour to the county courthouse to register to vote? Despite the long history of mistrust and barriers to the voting process, 77 percent of American Indians living in Montana are registered to vote—the highest percentage of registered voters out of any minority group in the state. Former Sen. Carol Juneau recently wrote an op-ed in the Char-Koosta News about the importance of American Indian voting access. “We now have three Indian majority senate districts and six Indian majority house districts in Montana that give Indian country a real voice in the direction of our state,” she said. “We have a much stronger state-tribal relationship being built because of this political power.” In June, the state and three counties settled a federal voting-rights lawsuit which resulted in the creation of satellite voting offices on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations, and in August an office opened in Glacier County where the Blackfeet reservation is located. Such efforts towards removing barriers to the democratic process are encouraging, but we mustn’t stop there.

Voting “No” on LR-126 will maintain voter’s ability to register or update their information on Election Day, and eliminate unnecessary and burdensome obstacles for some of our most vulnerable citizens. For some people, voter registration is small errand, but for others, like senior citizens, veterans, people who work multiple jobs, and especially for those who live in rural areas, an extra trip in to town takes a large amount of time and the expense of gas. These people are our family, friends, and neighbors and their voices deserve to be heard.

By Stephanie Land, YWCA Missoula Racial Justice Intern