Suppression on the Reservation Makes it Harder for Native Americans to Vote

8 mins read

Barriers being placed to prevent Native Americans from Voting-by-mail

Denying postal services to suppress Native American votes

It’s despicable when Americans are prevented from voting by groups creating barriers to voting and then penalizing voters for not being able to overcome those barriers. That’s a Catch-22.

Catch-22 traps Native American voters

Joseph Heller coined the term in is his novel Catch-22 to refer to a situation where an outcome is made impossible by a set of contradictory rules. Requiring a fresh graduate to have job experience, before they can get their first job is a Catch-22 situation.

Native Americans have some of the worst roads and postal services. This voter suppression scheme uses this lack of infrastructure that the government should provide them in the first place, to prevent them from voting by mail.

Arizona Republicans have created a Catch-22 to suppress Navajo Nation voters. “You can only improve life on the reservation by voting – but you cannot vote because we’re going to cut the roads and postal service on the reservation you need to vote.”

Poor roads and sparse U.S. Postal Service on Navajo Nation prevents residents from voting.
Unequal U.S. Postal service is being used to suppress Native American voters

Location-based voter suppression

The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in America and spans almost 16,000 square miles across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. It has a poverty rate of 38% – twice that of the rest of Arizona. One in five of the residents live below the poverty threshold. “In addition to the time and travel distance required to get to a post office, there is the added financial burden of fuel or the expense of paying someone to take them to the post office or postal provider.” – Native American Rights Fund (NARF)

The Navajo Nation has just twenty six post offices and postal provider offices. Scottsdale which is tiny in comparison in size has twelve post offices. This difference in access to postal services makes it much easier for urban voters and penalizes Native Americans from voting by mail.

Appealing for justice

“Navajo Nation residents have 40 to 70 percent fewer days to cast their ballots after they receive them than other non-Indian Arizona voters. Data compiled by Four Directions shows that many Navajo Nation citizens who request an absentee ballot on October 23 (which is their right under Arizona law) will not receive it in time to consider, mark, and mail that it back, and have it in the possession of the county recorder’s office by 7:00 pm on Election Day, as per the current law,” said O.J. Semans, Executive Director with Four Directions.

“Several Navajo Nation citizens with concerns about the U.S. Postal Service are asking a court to ensure their ballots will still be counted in Arizona even if delivered late. The group filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday challenging the state’s current law, which says election officials cannot count mail-in ballots received after election night.

The lawsuit contends that mail service is so much slower and less accessible for many Arizonans living on reservations that the existing deadline will disenfranchise some voters even as they put their ballots in the mail well in advance of the state’s deadline. The group wants a federal judge to require Arizona election officials to count ballots delivered up to 10 days after Election Day as long as the ballots come from tribal members living on reservations and are postmarked on or before the day of the election.” – Arizona Central

Voter suppression on Native American reservations by cutting mail services and reducing the time to return ballots
Four Directions – DemLabs StoryMap explains voter suppression on the Navajo Nation

Few Native Americans have mail delivery at their homes

Throughout the United States, homes on Native American reservations have “non-traditional addresses” that do not use a street name. Homes are usually described in terms of landmarks, crossroads, and directions. The postal service doesn’t deliver to these kind of addresses, so Native American voters are unable to receive mail-in ballots at their homes. On top of this, certain precincts prohibit the delivery of election materials to non-traditional addresses.

Post Offices on reservations are far and few between

Many Native Americans who have “non-traditional addresses” use PO boxes to conduct business and receive mail. Post offices in rural America are sparse and hundreds of miles away from most Native American residences, making a trip to the post office much more than a typical errand. On top of this, PO Boxes cost money and sometimes there are not enough PO Boxes at rural post offices to service an entire Native American community, so friends and families share them. This matters because some precincts do not allow PO Boxes or shared Boxes for voter registration.

The high cost of mail-in-voting for Native Americans

As described above, getting to a post office requires a significant amount of time, gas, money, and access to a car for most Native Americans. These costs are simply too high for most Native Americans, who have a 26.6 percent poverty rate, nearly double the national rate.


There is a severe housing crisis on most Native American reservations, where 15 or more people sharing a home is very common. Many Native Americans couch surf from house to house until they are able to afford a home of their own. Precarious housing makes voter registration and the delivery of mailed ballots difficult. Some state laws prohibit ballots to be mailed to a home with more than one family. This lack of permanent housing impacts the ability of Native Americans to have a permanent physical address, yet this should not impede their ability to exercise their right to vote.

Takeaway: Use StoryMaps to make it easier to understand how Native American voters are being suppressed and mobilize support for fair voting.


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