Native Americans fear Supreme Court ruling on Arizona voting law will create barriers

A Supreme Court ruling that upheld two provisions of Arizona voting law that restrict how ballots can be cast will make it more difficult for Native Americans in the state’s tribal communities to vote, Navajo Nation activists say.

Allie Young, founder of Protect The Sacred, said Friday that the court ruling would be a setback after organizers worked hard to register and assist many Native Americans last year who hadn’t voted in previous elections.

“It’s very disappointing,” Young said. “I’m concerned that we have built so much momentum around making our voices heard and this will only discourage us.”

President Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win the presidential race in Arizona since Bill Clinton in 1996. His 49% was the largest vote share for any Democrat in the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The about 4-point difference between the national vote (Biden by about 4 points) and Arizona’s vote (Biden by 0.3 points) is the best for a Democrat since 1948, when Harry Truman won.

Navajo Nation was largely credited with helping Biden win the reliably red state. Roughly 75% of Arizona’s Native residents voted for Biden, according to an analysis by the Arizona Republic. Maricopa County, where many of the state’s tribal communities are located, was key to Biden’s victory.

The provisions upheld by the Supreme Court state that in-person ballots cast at the wrong precinct on Election Day must be completely discarded and that only family caregivers, mail carriers and election officials can deliver another person’s ballot to a polling place.

Justice Samuel Alito, who delivered the majority opinion, said the provisions were necessary to prevent fraud.

“Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight,” Alito wrote, adding that fraud can “also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.”

But Young said the provisions will eliminate voting options that many Native Americans used in 2020.

For example, some reservations and tribal communities are located up to 20 miles from the assigned polling places or drop boxes and everyone doesn’t have transportation or residential mail service. Many of those residents rely on organizers who come to their communities to collect and deliver their ballots, Young said. Native Americans have also taken advantage of being able to cast their ballots at the location most convenient for them, she added.

The Northeast Arizona Native Democrats said in a Twitter post that the Supreme Court ruling was “disappointing.” But the organization said that Native organizers would be “critical for defeating AZ voter suppression tactics & upholding democracy.”

“The Supreme Court had an opportunity to protect our right to vote at a critical moment in our history, but instead decided to let discriminatory voting policies in Arizona stand making it harder for Indigenous, Black & Brown communities to vote,” Northeast Arizona Native Democrats wrote.

Young said she will not let the court’s ruling deter her organizing efforts. She plans to start early, work harder and continue her “Ride to the Polls” program to ensure Native Americans turn out for midterm elections.

“They are afraid of our power, and they see that we have power in numbers,” Young said. “We are showing up and we are no longer going to be invisible or silent.”