Experts Debate Effects of Voting Rights Act Provision on Native Americans
During a February 22 media conference call with legal experts, Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said he thinks it is the Supreme Court’s duty to reject the challenge of constitutionality of Section 5. “The Section 5 objections enforcement actions…show that the extension of Section 5 in 2006 was more than justified,” McDonald said. In his report, “Voting Rights in Indian Country,” McDonald lays out several discriminatory decisions, such as redistricting in South Dakota, which diluted the Indian vote.
However, Section 5 is not permanent and jurisdictions may terminate or “bail out” from coverage if they have not discriminated for at least 10 years. Nine states are currently covered as a whole: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
According to Patricia Ferguson-Bohnee, law professor at Arizona State University and author of an amicus brief filed by the Navajo Nation, Section 5 has improved American Indian’s voting rights in Arizona. However, she said, voters are still facing challenges, such as distant poll locations, linguistic barriers, and restrictive ID requirements.
James Tucker, a voting rights of counsel with Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker and a primary author of the amicus brief filed by the Alaska Federation of Natives, said Section 5 remains an appropriate measure to prevent the ongoing voting discrimination against Alaska Natives. Section 203 of the Act requires that minorities in certain designated jurisdictions are to be given assistance in voting in their native language.
Alaska has the greatest number of indigenous languages in the country and Native Alaskan suffered historical educational discrimination that prevented them from learning English, Tucker said. In Nick v. Bethel and the state of Alaska, a federal court found that by providing all voter registration and voting information only in English, and by failing to provide translators, Alaska lacked responsiveness in remedying discrimination against Alaska Natives.