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Voter identification laws disproportionally affect Native Americans

| March 8, 2022 7:00 AM

To the editor:

In Montana, Native Americans make up 7 percent of the population and play decisive roles in elections. With the geographical size of the state, the seven Montana reservations are often distant from registration sites and polling boxes.

For many rural tribal communities, ballot collection is the only way to ensure that their votes are counted. In addition, lack of internet and transportation, poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic further curtail Indigenous people's ability to vote in person.

In 2021, Montana legislature enacted H.B. 176, which eliminated same-day voter registration, and H.B. 530, which restricted ballot collection on reservations. This is an unconstitutional attack on Native Americans' ability to vote.

Residents living on tribal reservations often have limited mail delivery service or live great distances from voting registration and polling centers. Many simply cannot take an entire day off to drive to the nearest elections office. Earlier deadlines and stricter voter identification laws further amplify barriers.

These new laws disenfranchise Native American voters. For our elections to be free and fair, we need to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to cast their ballots.

It is vital that Native American voices are heard at the ballot box and elected officials are held accountable under federal law. Contact your local senators now and urge them to eliminate H.B. 176 and H.B. 530.

Sylvia Heriza

Missoula