Department of Justice Proposes Legislation to Improve Access to Voting for American Indians and Alaska Natives

On May 21, 2015, the Department of Justice proposed federal legislation that would require states or localities whose territory includes part or all of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village, or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by the tribal government. We owe thanks to all the tribal leaders who participated in consultation with us and who submitted formal comments in response to the framing paper we circulated last June. The participation of tribal leaders and their input was crucial to the development of this proposed legislation. To address some of the unique and persistent challenges that American Indian and Alaska Native voters face, the proposed stand-alone bill would:

  • Enable Native Americans to vote on or near tribal lands by requiring any state or local election administrator whose territory includes part or all of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village, or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected, and made available for the purpose of conducting elections, by the tribal government.

  • Require states to make voting machines, ballots, and other voting materials and equipment available at these tribally located polling places to the same extent that they are available at other polling places in the state.

  • Require states to provide compensation and other benefits to election officials and poll workers at these polling places to the same extent as at other polling places in the state.

  • Require states to use the same voting procedures at these polling places as at other polling places in the state — potentially including election-day voting, early voting, the hours during which polling places are open, the operation of voting mechanisms or systems, and same-day registration.

  • Allow states to meet their obligations by either creating new polling places or relocating existing ones.

  • Allow tribes with larger populations or land bases to request more than one polling place.

  • Make the states’ obligations contingent on the tribe filing a timely request and certifying that it has arranged for access to, and appropriate staffing for, the polling facility.

  • Require the tribe to ensure that the staffers for the polling place are properly trained.

  • Require the tribe to ensure that the polling place will be open and accessible to all eligible citizens who reside in the precinct, regardless of whether they are Indians or non-Indians.

The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring equal access to voting for Native American voters. Our goals in proposing this legislation are to address serious voting obstacles faced by citizens who are members of Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages; provide equal access to polling places for all eligible citizens, including members of tribes and villages; reinforce our nation’s commitment to the fundamental right to vote; and strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribal nations.  

Draft Legislation

Press Release

Updated May 21, 2015