Nevada tribal members to vote on reservation this November
RENO, Nev. — This November, Native residents in Washoe and Mineral counties will cast their votes at polling stations within their own communities thanks to litigation led by the Pyramid Lake Paiute and Walker River Paiute tribes.
In August 2016, the tribes filed a lawsuit against then-Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Washoe and Mineral counties after their request for early voting and polling places on the reservations was denied allegedly due to the timing of the request.
Without on-site voting, tribal members faced 70- to 90-mile drives to vote at the nearest polling location.
That October, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the tribes. Washoe County was ordered to pay $25,000; the state, $20,000; and Mineral County, $15,000.
Satellite voting booths were set up in Nixon and Schurz, and this year, more tribal members in Nevada will have the opportunity to vote within their own communities.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right for all American citizens, but even after 53 years, since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many Native Americans still face barriers and disenfranchisement in many states resulting in a number of lawsuits,” Chairman Arlan D. Melendez of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony said in a press release. “The recent federal litigation by the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute Tribes resulted in a favorable outcome as Tribes in Nevada now have the opportunity to have county official voter registration offices, plus early-voting and election day voting stations in their communities.
“The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony will take advantage of this opportunity this November with a voting day station in our Hungry Valley community.”
“For the first time in history, we will cast a vote from our neighborhood and not have to travel unacceptable distances to vote,” he continued. “Though there are other barriers such as the need for automatic voter registration, language impediments to voting and other issues, Tribes across the nation and in Nevada are standing firm on their right to fair and equal access to voting.”
On the heels of that 2016 lawsuit success, a new bill in the Senate seeks to further bolster Native American voting rights.
On Oct. 3, Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2018, legislation that strives to provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native Americans have equal access to the voting process.
It would establish a Native American Voting Rights Task Force to authorize funding for tribal-state consortiums to boost Native voter registration, education and election participation. The bill would also increase Native access to voter registration sites and polling locations while ensuring equal treatment for tribal ID cards for voting purposes.
“Barriers to voting are far too common in Native communities,” said Cortez Masto. “We have a responsibility to ensure that every person with the right to vote can cast a ballot. I’m proud to support this bill to protect Native American voting rights in Nevada and across the country.”
Go to bit.ly/2pJHSh5 to read the full text of the bill.
Lester McDonald, a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, says he is passionate about firefighting, adding that, “it’s every boy’s dream in a sense to become a firefighter.”