Once again, racism against Native communities is equally as harsh and horrifying as against any other racial minority in the United States. This very much includes voter suppression. Here’s an interview with Jean Schroedel, who has a new book out on the issue:
Jean Schroedel: Many Native American reservations have what’s called non-standard mail service, meaning you don’t get mail at home. You may have to go to either a post office or what’s called a postal provider office. The latter is very common on reservations, and it’s not a full-service post office. It’s not postal employees. You will find these postal provider offices are at gas stations or mini-marts; it’s a little add-on to whatever the normal business is.
Well, that’s a big challenge. If you can’t get mail at home, that means having to find transportation to pick up your mail. You might have to pay for a post office box, but there may not be enough. I’ve seen some places where the cost for a post office box is as high as about $140 a year. For someone who may be experiencing economic hardships, that’s a big burden.
For residents of the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation, there are a total of 26 locations where people theoretically can receive mail. This consists of 11 post offices and 15 postal provider offices where non-U.S. Postal Service contractors provide limited mail service. For comparison, West Virginia, which has a land mass slightly less than the Navajo Nation, has 725 post offices and postal provider sites.
HCN: Why is political trust important for voting by mail to work in tribal communities?
JC: If you have experienced racism in the white parts of your state or county, you might be very, very hesitant about voting by mail. There’s a tremendous amount of discretion when an individual votes by mail. In South Dakota, your ballot goes to an election office, and the county auditor, who is elected, sees your name, and knows how you voted because they are required to verify that your signature on the ballot matches the one they have on file. Are you going to send in your vote that you’re voting against that person? If you don’t trust that election official, if you think that person might be racist, if you don’t think your votes are going to count, why are you going to bother to vote?
HCN: In your book, you mentioned a “second wave” of voting rights abuses for Indigenous voters. What is that second wave?
JS: The best way to explain it is to do a comparison with the first wave. First-wave voting rights abuses are when a state has a law that says “Indians can’t vote” or “Black people cannot vote.” Second-wave voting rights abuses dilute, suppress and abridge the right to vote. These are laws that make it harder to vote, such as having to obtain approved identification when (election) officials refuse to accept tribal IDs as valid identification, or having to travel a long distance to polling locations because those near you were closed. They don’t forbid (voting). They don’t deny it. They just make it harder for some populations.