Native American are citizens of the United States and have the right to vote in federal, state and local elections. That may seem obvious, but it hasn’t always been the case.
The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, spelled out the right to vote for all U.S. citizens regardless of race (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”). But it wasn’t until the Snyder Act of 1924 explicitly declared Native Americans to be U.S. citizens that they became eligible to vote. Yet, legal barriers remained, and the last—a provision in Arizona’s Constitution expressly denying Native Americans their right to vote—was struck down in 1948.
While overt prohibitions on voting by Native Americans are a thing of the past, these voters, especially if they live on reservations, may still face challenges distinct from those faced by others: rural locations, no residential mail delivery, housing insecurity and more. At the same time, these problems are not unique to Native Americans, and solutions to the challenges they face often aid other voters as well. For instance, rural voters everywhere may face issues with postal service, and voters with limited literacy or English proficiency on and off reservations can benefit from plain-language elections materials.
Native Americans can also vote in tribal elections—think of them as having dual citizenship in two sovereign nations, the U.S. and their tribe.
The following sections outline:
- Population and Turnout in Indian Country.
- Potential impediments to voting for Native American and Alaska Native citizens.
- State Policies on Voting and Their Impact.
- Recent Legislation Specifically Addressing Voting for Native Americans.