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WI Tribal Communities Work to Dismantle Barriers to Voting

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021   

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin will be a major battleground in the 2022 midterms, and tribal voting-rights groups are working now to ensure Native American votes count in next November's elections.

From confusing voter ID requirements to difficulties registering to vote, the groups say Wisconsin's tribal residents face many barriers when casting their ballots.

Anjali Bhasin, civic engagement director for Wisconsin Conservation Voices, said election officials often apply the state's voter ID laws improperly to Native Americans.

"One example of this is, for example, tribal IDs are valid both as IDs for voting and for proof of residence," Bhasin explained. "But we know that Native voters have been turned away when they've taken those forms of ID with them."

In 2018, the most recent year such data is available, the League of Women Voters found voting sites serving tribal communities were more than twice as likely to turn voters away at registration than other sites, claiming they lacked proof of residency.

For next year's elections, Bhasin noted tribal advocates will be working with election officials to ensure Native Americans have fair access to the polls.

But barriers still remain.

Dee Sweet, Native Vote program manager for Wisconsin Conservation Voices and member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, said technology hurdles can also make it difficult for tribal members to register. Much of Wisconsin's voter registration process is conducted online, through the My Vote website.

"The assumption is that everyone has access to be able to register online, and they know the process, and they're able to maintain broadband connectivity," Sweet observed. "And that's just not always the case in tribal communities."

Despite those hurdles, data collected by Wisconsin Conservation Voices finds voter turnout in 2020 increased in all the state's tribal communities.


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