Tribal Leaders Say New Arizona Election Laws Threaten Indigenous Voting Rights

May 21, 2021

Gov. Doug Ducey has signed at least a dozen voting bills into law during this legislative session. Republicans say they make elections more secure and efficient, but according to tribal leaders, some of the measures are nothing more than attempts at voter suppression following former President Donald Trump’s loss in Arizona last year. Tribes worry the new laws combined with language barriers, the remoteness of reservations and even poor road conditions will disenfranchise Indian Country voters, especially elders. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, whose district includes the Navajo Nation, of which she’s a member.

Political observers say high turnout on the Navajo Nation helped President Joe Biden win in Arizona, the first time since 1996 that a Democrat claimed victory in the state. Now some think an array of new election-related laws in Arizona are aimed at diluting tribal influence in state elections.
Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU

Ryan Heinsius: Are tribal voting rights, in your opinion, under attack in Arizona?

Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren: Yes, they are under attack. I think we saw the power of the Native American vote in this past election. I believe it was 56,000 Navajos came out and voted in this last election, and we know that President Biden won the election by about 11,000 votes. So, we know that the Native American, specifically the Navajo, population came out very strongly in support of President Biden and now we see their voting rights being attacked.

RH: Do you see these laws as a sort of retribution for not electing GOP candidates?

JBN: I 100% agree with that statement. I think that had Arizona voted another way in this last election we definitely would not be seeing as many voter suppression bills that we currently see. And this goes in the same vein as the big lie that Joe Biden didn’t win the state of Arizona, and now we see the effects of that in the Maricopa County audit that’s currently happening. And the effects of that are not lost on myself, my colleagues, and the great, vast amount of voter suppression bills that are being heard here at the state Legislature.

RH: There still is yet another voter-oriented bill in the Legislature under consideration and that’s 1713, which has to do with IDs. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about why that could pose a problem for Navajo voters.

JBN: From what I understand, 1713 would require an individual to, I believe, send a copy of their driver’s license when they submit their early ballot. And that creates a huge problem for Navajo voters. When our elders were born they weren’t born in the hospital so they don’t actually have one birthdate across all forms of their IDs. That wouldn’t be allowed under 1713 so some of our elders, people who we know vote but wouldn’t be able to do this or engage in this process. We also know that 1713 wouldn’t allow tribal members to use their tribal identification cards in lieu of their driver’s license, which would also make this process more difficult. They know that those IDs are just as good as a driver’s license in most places, and they use those instead of a driver’s license. And so, 1713 wouldn’t allow them to use the tribal identification to vote and so we know that’s another issue that 1713 poses to tribal communities.

RH: Is there a fundamental disconnect between what goes on in Phoenix at the state capital and what the reality is, perhaps, up on tribal lands, on the Navajo Nation and elsewhere.

JBN: Definitely. We see that in these bills, we see that in the language of bills. I feel like I’m constantly having to educate my peers about what it’s actually like to be on the reservation where you can’t just go two miles down the street to vote early. You have to drive hours – for me, for example, I live in Apache County, and our county elections office is about a three-hour’s drive for me to go and vote if I wanted to go early, like on a Monday. And the only days that I can vote locally early are on Fridays from 8 to 5 p.m. So, if I happen to be working on Fridays and I can’t make that day work I’m going to have to drive six hours round-trip to get to St. Johns to vote early, and so a lot of people just don’t realize the vastness of these rural areas, especially Navajo.