For Native Americans, voting rights were hard-won. Mail-in voting could undo the gains.

“In 1924, the US Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship for Native Americans. But the law left it up to the states to decide whether to grant Native Americans the right to vote, and it would take nearly four more decades for all states to do so; Utah was the last in 1962. When Native Americans started voting and running for office, white election officials were not always friendly.”

“Voting disenfranchisement for Native Americans has moved from the outright denial in the 1950s and 1960s, before the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, to other, more subtle ways that voting access has been made difficult. Before Montana’s satellite offices were set up, Fort Belknap tribal members said, they’d show up to their designated polling place to vote, only to find local election officials informing them they had to go elsewhere.”

“Problems have persisted. Attorneys told Vox that as recently as 2016, one local election official in Alaska kept more than 100 Native voters from being registered, refusing to send more than 25 registration applications per village because, the official said, they didn’t think the Native villagers would fill out the forms.
“When we called and asked about that, [the official] said [Native voters] really aren’t interested in voting, and if we send 150 registrations, we’re only going to get a handful of them back,” said Natalie Landreth, an Alaska-based staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. “We see that all over the place, these local, county-level decisions that will have huge impact on registrations, ballot access. A lot of those decisions aren’t set in statute.”

Native tribes have had some success to get the same basic rights afforded to other Americans, but these suits can drag on for years and drain tribes of their financial resources. Whereas tribes have to foot their bills, state and local governments have more resources through municipal insurance and aren’t on the hook for court fees.”

““Vote-by-mail is perfectly fine voter reform. It’s great as part of a package of voter-friendly reform to get more people access to the ballot,” said Claremont Graduate College researcher Joe Dietrich, who works on Schroedel’s team. “The problem starts to arise when you make [it] the only option to get people the ballot.””

“The problems related to mail-in voting are myriad for Native communities, advocates say. A lack of reliable mail access and a proliferation of nontraditional addresses on reservations, including those in North and South Dakota as well as the southwestern Navajo Nation, make home delivery impossible for many. For those with cars, simply visiting a post office to pick up and drop off a ballot can mean driving many miles on unpaved roads.

Mail-in ballots written in English are indecipherable to voters who don’t speak it, including older Navajo speakers, or Yupik speakers in Alaska’s Native villages who rely on translators at the polls. And if a voter is able to get a ballot and mail it in, there’s still the chance that a local election official could toss it because of something like missing information or a signature that doesn’t match the one on file. (Recent studies found that local election officials in Georgia and Florida were far more likely to reject ballots from minority and younger voters in the 2018 midterms.)”