HELENA – Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh said Thursday they are supporting a bill to better protect voting rights across Indian country.

The two Democrats are cosponsoring a bill by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, which seeks to “safeguard the voting rights of Native Americans and Alaska Native voters and to provide the resources and oversight necessary to ensure equal access to the electoral process.”

“I think what it does is it’s going to provide some access for tribal folks to vote,” Tester said in a telephone interview. “There’s been an attack on the right to vote.”

Many Native Americans live in isolated rural areas, making it difficult for them to travel long distances to vote.

“Polling places have been eliminated, moved or consolidated,” Tester said. “Quite frankly, in Montana, these are rural areas, and it ought not to be happening.”

Tester said the bill would:

– Prevent the closure of polling locations on Indian reservations.

– Require states for the first time to accept tribal ID cards as a form of identification at polling places.

– Clarify that jurisdictions have a duty to translate ballots from English to native languages.

The major change sought, Tester said, is the one stopping the closure of polling locations on Indian reservations. He said there have been efforts to restrict the ability of people to vote.

“Dating back to my first days in the state Legislature, both parties were working hard to make sure everyone had the opportunity to vote,” Tester said. “Now it seems there is an effort to try and restrict. This hopefully takes it in the other direction.”

It also gives tribal leaders authority to request additional election oversight and provides for public access to election reports.

“Exercising one’s right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights in this country, and it’s high time that we make sure our tribal nationals have equal access to exercising this right,” Walsh said. “This bill is an important response to the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision to strike down some of the most important protections of the Voting Rights Act.”

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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(6) comments

Leadfoot

@Tim Huffman. Native Americans do not have a unique situation in distances from the voting polls. There are millions more Non-native Americans in America who travel longer distances than that to vote, so to cry discrimination is either uninformed or disingenuous. Also, no conservative wants a tribal leader in sole control of the ballots cast on a reservation. The tribal leader does not have the constitutional right. I don't trust them any more than I trust Mayor Engen, Tester, or Walsh. Observers from both parties had better be in over-site positions if these sites are to be re-opened. Don't be so naïve or deceptive in your attempts to convince us that your motives are purely for the voting rights of a minority. It is an attempt to obtain every legitimate & illegitimate minority vote for the Democrats running for office. I also want an iron-clad way of determining whether these native americans using a tribal card for I.D. aren't voting absentee ballot in another area or state, as well as Montana. I want the people designated right now as to who will be responsible for determining the accuracy of this information & be held accountable for the accuracy of their efforts. There is literally no one doing this for college students in Montana. Many have had the audacity to even brag that they voted twice, in Missoula & in their home state by absentee ballot, and no one cared. These are just a few of the tricks used by Democrats, pulled from their bag of dirty tricks, at election time. As they say in Chicago: Vote Democrat & Vote Often.

Pistol

Does anyone really believe that the county in which the reservation is wouldn't have a polling place? Maybe in Alaska but not Montana. Also I would bet 90% plus of the native americans in Montana can't read there native language. There language is english. Anyone another examplle of time and money spent on sizzle. Better spent on improving education, work opportunities, and health care issues on the reservations.

Tim Huffman

Larry, do you understand the history behind this bill? Polling places on many reservations have been shuttered in recent years, requiring voters to travel 60 miles or more to vote. Hardly a "trundle". If all the polling places were closed in Missoula would you cheerfully drive to Anaconda?

walter12

Both men are devoted stooges of this Obama. They figure that the Natives will vote Dem, so of course they want more (so-called) voter rights. Tester will alone after November and in 2016, he will be gone too.

patience

Larry Lewis, you have NO idea of what you speak.

Larry Lewis

How tough is it to register and then trundle down to the polls? This looks like tweedle dee and tweedle dum are fixing the problem that doesn't exist.

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