For some Nevada Native American tribes, early voting next week will require a lengthy drive: more than 200 miles round trip. That’s why nine tribes asked the state on Friday to open satellite polling locations on their reservations.
The requests come after a federal judge ordered Nevada to provide early polling locations for two tribes who filed suit, arguing that their members would have had to drive almost 100 miles in order to vote before Election Day.
The state had denied the two tribes’ requests, but on October 7, a federal judge ruled in their favor and ordered Nevada to provide the Pyramid Lake Paiute and Walker River Paiute tribes with early voting locations.
“There is a considerable body of research that supports the intuitive notion that the greater the distance a voter has to travel to the polls, and the more impediments to travel, the less likely that voter is to vote,” the judge wrote.
After that decision, nine other tribes made requests on Friday with Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) for early polling sites from October 29 through November 4. In past elections, Native American voter turnout has increased when tribes are given more opportunities to vote in person.
According to the Reno Gazette Journal, the nine tribes include the Reno Sparks Indian Colony in Washoe County, the Yerington Paiutes in Lyon County, three tribes in Elko County, one in Humboldt County, one in Churchill County, one in Nye County, and one in Clark County.
While several of the tribes will have polling places on Election Day, Native American voting rights group Four Directions alleges that there are still far more opportunities for Anglo citizens to vote — a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
After winning legal victories in South Dakota in 2014, Four Directions decided to help Nevada tribes secure access to the ballot this year. The group claims that establishing polling locations on reservations is important because Native Americans tend to be poorer and less mobile than the average American, so any barriers could prevent them from casting a ballot.
Bret Healy, a consultant for Four Directions, said that the nine new requests will determine whether the secretary of state’s office is committed to allowing equal access to vote. “If the political will were there, it’s extremely doable,” he said about setting up the additional early polling sites.
“To be a honest, it’s a test for the secretary and for those various jurisdictions about how responsive they want to be to Indian country,” he continued.
Alvin Moyle, the former chair of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe, told ThinkProgress that Nevada’s reluctance to accommodate Native Americans is is discriminatory.
“It’s very easy to see, if you’re right here looking at it up front, that it’s unequal,” he said. “It’s just unequal.”