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White House report highlights barriers to voting for tribal members

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Associated Press | Cayla Nimmo, file
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Mildred James of Sanders, Arizona, shows off her "I Voted" sticker as she waits for results of the Navajo Nation presidential primary election to be revealed in Window Rock, Ariz., in 2018.

The White House Thursday released a report highlighting several barriers to voting among tribal communities in the U.S. It says many of the persistent roadblocks have deep historical roots.

The report from the Interagency Steering Group on Native American Voting Rights says language barriers, access to voting information and the remoteness of many reservations are some of the main impediments faced by tribal members. The group also highlights ID requirements and discriminatory redistricting that deter some Indigenous voters from going to the polls.

In addition, the report points out that the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult to vote in person, and limited postal delivery to many Native communities makes voting by mail more difficult.

Navajo Nation leaders were among those consulted for the report and President Jonathan Nez says federal legislation is needed.

"The Native American Voting Rights Act needs to be approved and making sure that the first citizens of this country, of this state, are protected in voting," says Nez.

The report proposes several ways to boost voter access including the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which includes the provisions for Indigenous voters, and for the U.S. Postal Service to add routes and other services on tribal lands to increase voting by mail.

It comes as many Republican-controlled state Legislatures across the country, including in Arizona, have introduced bills critics say would curtail voting access to lower-income people and communities of color.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.