Episode 156: The battle for Native American voting rights

Inside the fight for equal access to the ballot box.

When San Juan County, Utah made the move to all mail-in voting in 2014, it seemed like a great idea.  The county is almost 8,000 square miles with about 15,000 residents and voting by mail meant you no longer had to travel to a polling place. But for residents of the Navajo reservation, about half the county’s population, that change actually made voting more difficult.

Gone were the six inperson polling places on the reservation and gone were the translators to help the many Navajo-only speakers vote. The mail-in ballot was English only, Navajo is a predominantly spoken language. “My first reaction was what about those people that don’t speak English? What happens to those people?” said Terry Whitehat, who lives in a part of the reservation called Navajo Mountain The one place left to vote in person was located off the reservation, which for Whitehat meant up to a 10-hour return trip drive. How were these voters going to be able to vote wondered Whitehat. “Basically, it’s impossible,” he said. 

This week on the podcast, in collaboration with News21, we take you to the frontlines of the battle for voting rights where Native Americans, are still fighting for equal access to the ballot box.

This report is part of a project on voting rights in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. Make sure to check out News21’s full story here.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this episode incorrectly stated that a federal court had granted a preliminary injunction sought by the Navajo in San Juan County in summer 2016. The podcast has been updated.

Loading Next Story