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The following is excerpted from “The Missing Native Vote,” Stephanie Woodard’s cover story in the July 2014 issue of In These Times. Woodard explains how, nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, American Indians still lack equal access to the ballot box — and how, depending on the outcome of a federal lawsuit, the war on their voting rights could swing control of the U.S. Senate.

You can read the full piece here.

It was mid-April, and Montana was gearing up for this year’s primary election. Voting would get underway in Big Sky Country on May 5, with a month of advance voting by absentee ballot — by mail or by delivering a ballot to the county courthouse — leading up to Primary Day on June 3. If people hadn’t registered, they could head to the courthouse to sign up.

But for Ed “Buster” Moore, who lives on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north-central Montana, it wasn’t so simple. To cast a ballot during the absentee-voting period, he would have to make the 126-mile round trip to the Blaine County Courthouse in Chinook. That’s about $21 worth of gas, not to mention the income that Moore, an artisan, would lose by taking a half-day off from his work making hand drums, rawhide bags and other items that he sells in the community and on the Internet. A diabetic, he’d have to buy lunch on the road. Those expenses add up.

If he had to vote today? “I couldn’t afford it,” Moore says. For tribal members who are unemployed or receiving assistance, voting would be impossible, he says. “It’s sheer economics.”

Moore’s situation isn’t unusual. Though measures that curtail minorities’ voting rights, such as stringent ID requirements and limited voting time, have made headlines in recent years, the challenges Native Americans face when they go to the polls have never been on the national radar. In the second decade of the 21st century, nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discriminatory voting practices, American Indians are still working to obtain equal voting rights.

Montanans can register to vote during the month preceding elections — but there’s a catch. The courthouses where they register are in largely white-inhabited county seats, not on reservations. In the nation’s fourth largest state — at 147,040 square miles, bigger than Germany — that can mean daylong trips for people like Moore from isolated reservations.

And that’s just registration. The month-long voting period is supposed to make casting a ballot easier, and hundreds of thousands of Montanans take advantage of it. In 2012, 42.5 percent of voters either mailed in an absentee ballot or voted in person during the month leading up to Primary Day, according to state election results. In-person voting, however, is only allowed at those same county courthouses, a long way from reservations. And voting by mail poses its own difficulties, thanks to unreliable postal service on reservations. For Native people, casting a ballot in Montana can be a multi-day event.

The distance between reservations and county courthouses isn’t just an inconvenience; for many Natives, that distance can mean the difference between voting and not voting. Johnathan Walker, student body president of Fort Belknap’s Aaniiih Nakoda College and an avid participant in get-out-the-vote efforts, recalls one 85-year-old woman who missed her opportunity to vote because Walker was unable to secure transportation for her to the courthouse.

To measure the impact of these hurdles, a 2014 report by Jean Schroedel, a professor of political science at Claremont Graduate University, examined voting methods used in the 2012 general election in three Montana counties that overlap reservations. In Blaine County, she found, 46 percent of voters in white precincts cast absentee ballots. Meanwhile, just 18 percent did so in Indian precincts. The proportions were similar elsewhere in the state.

None of this adds up to equal rights, according to former Fort Belknap tribal president and cultural leader William “Snuffy” Main. “Indians have one day to vote, assuming they’ve registered ahead of time, and everyone else has a month,” says Main, a board member of the Native voting-rights nonprofit Four Directions. As Mark Azure, Fort Belknap’s current tribal president, puts it, “I would love to walk out the door, cross the street, cast my vote and get back to my life — and not have to take half a day and go off the reservation to a town where I know that … I’m not really welcome.”

He may soon be able to do just that, thanks to a federal lawsuit led by Mark Wandering Medicine, a Northern Cheyenne spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran who would have to travel 180 miles round trip to get to a county courthouse. The case, Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch, pits plaintiffs from three Montana reservations — Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Crow — against county elections officials and the secretary of state and top elections officer, Linda McCulloch. The plaintiffs demand equal access on their reservations to the absentee voting and late registration currently offered only in county courthouses.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Stephanie Woodard is an award-winning journalist whose articles on American Indian rights and other topics have been published by many national publications and news sites.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.