Measure championed by more than a dozen U.S. senators

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FARMINGTON — Federal legislation aimed at protecting and assisting Native Americans in voting has been introduced by several Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

More than a dozen senators, including Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both of New Mexico, introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2018 to provide resources and oversight to ensure equal access for Native Americans to vote.

Key provisions of the bill include establishing a voting rights task force, providing equal access to voter registration and polling sites, directing voting precincts to accept tribal identification cards, and directing states to consult with tribes about providing materials related to voting and voter registration.

Despite congressional action in 1924 to grant Native Americans citizenship, along with the protections of the 15th Amendment, several states have used methods to exclude Native Americans from voting, and such barriers continue today, the bill states.

The bill also mentions the findings by the Native American Voting Rights Coalition, a project of the Native American Rights Fund, which has conducted field hearings in tribal communities.

Among the issues the coalition revealed were lack of accessible registration and polling sites, and issues in fulfilling address requirements for voter registration, especially when dealing with addresses on reservations.

In Udall's statement in the press release, he said some barriers remain for Native Americans to exercise the right to vote, including the elimination of polling and voter registration locations, and the passage of stringent voter identification laws.

"These undemocratic barriers have blocked too many Native voters across New Mexico and Indian Country from exercising their franchise," Udall said.

Heinrich said in the release he supports the legislation because it provides resources and oversight to address obstacles faced by Native American voters.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in the release the tribe has been advocating for voting protections. He said Navajo voters face such challenges as having to travel up to 95 miles to access s polling site.

"This act will help correct injustices contributing to the low Native voter turnout by providing our communities with equal access to voter registration and polling sites," Begaye said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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