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Arizona’s Rollback of Indigenous Voting Rights Could Swing the State for the GOP

Indigenous voters are navigating a 2021 Supreme Court ruling that banned a common method of ballot collection.

Indigenous voters in Arizona who played a key role in catapulting Joe Biden to victory in 2020 are facing a sweeping rollback of their voting rights that may swing the state back to Republicans in Tuesday’s midterms. “In 2020, Native voters understood that the election of Donald Trump was an existential problem,” says New Yorker staff writer Sue Halpern, whose latest piece explores how voters on Arizona’s Navajo, Apache and Hopi reservations are navigating the 2021 Supreme Court ruling that banned a common method of voting collection used by Indigenous voters. We also speak with Lydia Dosela, who is running efforts to get out the vote on Indigenous reservations in Arizona to make sure “all Native American voices are heard loud and clear.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We look now at how Indigenous voters played a key role in Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 when they helped him win Arizona, but now face a sweeping rollback of their voting rights. This comes as the top Republican candidates in close races in Arizona are 2020 election deniers, including the gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Blake Masters, who’s running for U.S. Senate against Senator Mark Kelly.

Last year, a Supreme Court ruling in the case Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, which came out of Arizona, allowed the state to ban ballot collection from outside set precincts, which is a method that’s widely used by Native voters in Arizona. The move is expected to suppress their vote.

For more, we’re joined by The New Yorker magazine staff writer Sue Halpern, who spoke to voters on Arizona’s Navajo, Apache and Hopi reservations for The New Yorker in a new piece headlined “The Political Attack on the Native American Vote.” She’s also a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, and she’s joining us from Exeter, New Hampshire, where there is a key Senate contest going on between Maggie Hassan and General Bolduc. Also with us, in Fort Apache, Arizona, is Lydia Dosela, the matriarch coordinator for the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the Northeast Arizona Native Democrats. Lydia’s effort to get out the vote was featured in the New Yorker article.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Sue Halpern, let’s begin with you. Give us the broad picture of what’s happening on Native reservations across this country when it comes to today’s vote. I was very struck by one of the Native American leaders you quoted, who said, “We used to talk about why participate in the colonizer’s elections,” who then changed his mind dramatically.

SUE HALPERN: Yeah, I think that what happened was that in 2020, Native voters understood that the election of Donald Trump was an existential problem for them. Trump was talking about opening up uranium mining again. He was talking about coal mining again. He was talking about taking sacred lands and turning them over to private industry. And so, we saw this remarkable increase in Native voting, even though in the past it was seen as a kind of attempt, I think, to coopt Native voters and Native people on sovereign lands.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sue Halpern, how does the voting process work on the Native reservations? Because there is supposedly a sovereignty that exists, a certain limited sovereignty, among the Native peoples in terms of their own laws and regulations within their territories. So, how does that work in terms of voter participation?

SUE HALPERN: So, Native Americans are citizens of the United States. They have every right accorded to the United States citizens, which they are. The problem is that the government has been very lax in making it easier and, in fact, just easy for Native Americans to vote. So, things like post offices, which many of us just take for granted, don’t exist for many, many people. A lot of people have to use post boxes, which cost money, can cost money, which they don’t have. And so, when you vote on a reservation, ideally what you would be doing would be giving your ballot to someone — a friend, a neighbor, a family member — who can go to a dropbox, who can go to a polling place, and drop off your ballot. But the Brnovich decision made that illegal. And that is really something that will impact Native American voters this time around.

AMY GOODMAN: Lydia Dosela, you’re the matriarch coordinator for the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the Northeast Arizona Native Democrats, featured in Sue Halpern’s piece. So, play this out for us. Explain the issues you face on reservations and what these changing laws have meant. I mean, many say it’s the Native vote in 2020 that took Biden over the top in Arizona.

LYDIA DOSELA: The Native Americans, particularly the Apache Tribe, we have made our strong, powerful matriarchs, that we have talked to and basically addressed some of the issues, such as the one that Sue Halpern had mentioned earlier. And they began to — as they began to have their discussion, and in their discussion with me, it was a “how can we overcome that?”

Our people are known to look for solutions versus dwelling on the problems. So the solution that they came up with is that, OK, instead of having to go using the ballot box, we will now make every attempt to go to the early voting or voting on Election Day, because a lot of the issues that are facing our Native American reservation are the same thing as our neighboring towns and cities within the state. It is no difference with our tribal elections. We have pretty much the same type of election process as the state and the federal processes.

So, understanding that, we began to form a society of sorts, which is actually the matriarchs, because they understand their role as matriarchs, and they are very powerful women and educators. They have taken upon themselves to start talking to family members, recruiting family members that have not yet registered to vote to start registering to vote, and also making it understood that they are expected to vote, to turn this whole process back around to where all Native American voices are heard loud and clear, which becomes more stronger as more votes are cast.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lydia Dosela, you ran for political office at one point yourself. You were once a deputy director for elderly services. What are the issues that you’re hearing in terms of your particular people, the White Mountain Apache Tribe? What are the main issues that they are concerned about in this election?

LYDIA DOSELA: Their main concern is that — that’s been reiterated as I talk to people, all walks of life, has basically been education, education for the children and then also for the unborn, and also Social Security and also the rollout system for healthcare. And also the rising crime is also their concern, what they feel in their opinion should be done together with the state and the federal programs to bring that back down, and how it all goes back to the community. If the community becomes more active in their tribal homelands as it is off reservation, then together we can build a strong arm to where we can say, “OK, we’ve had enough of these issues. Let’s do something about our crime rate.”

Perhaps we need to go back to our tribal teaching to also instill in the youngsters why it’s so very important to go back to who they are, their identity as Native Americans, and understanding our relationship to other people, and then having respect for our lands and everything that God has created.

From that understanding, I began to talk more about — in depth about, OK, now, Social Security, what is it about that? They have heard through the news that the Republicans have thought about, OK, perhaps we need to get that invested in Wall Street and see if it can start making revenue on its own terms. And then, they didn’t like that, because they had worked very hard in depositing their retirement funds into the Social Security.

And then they also talked about the health system, you know, the healthcare. We had, with all the — what happened with the pandemic is where the Native Americans have thought very deep and hard about health insurance, what needs to be done.

And then, the other one is the education. In order for our children to have the same opportunity as those off reservation, they began to understand that education is very important. And they want to have the same type of education that’s offered elsewhere in the state in the reservation. On our reservation, we have shortages of teachers. We have substitute teachers for well into the school year. And the children do come home and then explain that we had a substitute teacher that was different from last week, and next week we have another one that’s probably going to be different. And there is no continuity in their teachings. And our children feel that they are not learning or being taught as are their counterparts.

And that’s where the grandparents and the parents and other members of the community have all said, “OK, what do we need to do?” And that’s where, in visiting the matriarchs, we have all begun to understand why it’s so very important that we need to come together. When we cast our votes, it becomes loud and clear that these are some of the issues that people that are elected, that will be in these offices, will no longer ignore us, but yet they will remember how loud and strong we came out by elections result — how many votes were cast on Native American reservations.

And time and time again, the elders have stressed that the times have changed. We also need to educate ourselves and to meet the changes of a new world. People always say that we can’t — you know, we’re not living in wickiups anymore. We have houses here. We also have a housing shortage. But all of that is no different from the rest of the world. We also need to meet the demands of unemployment, healthcare and education, and even a need for other programs.

And also very important, in talking to these elders, was the preservation of our civil rights, which is voting. And having that understood, a lot of our elders have — or, matriarchs, in my particular case, having made every effort to get their family members that are not registered, to have them registered. And we were able to get the voter registration applications to them. We also helped them get it and have them mailed back. And we also — in some cases, some have driven them back to the county office in Holbrook.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lydia Dosela, we want to thank you for being with us, matriarch coordinator for the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the Northeast Arizona Native Democrats, featured in Sue Halpern’s New Yorker piece, “The Political Attack on the Native American Vote.”

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