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Opinion: Indian voters still struggle for rights

"The right to vote is among the most basic and fundamental rights of American citizens. American Indians have not always had that right. From the inception of the United States, the states dealt variously with American Indians and the right to vote. Voting and its procedures are an essential responsibility of the states.

Western states imposed severe restrictions that limited or barred American Indians from voting and holding office. Citizenship was required for voting, and American Indians did not become citizens until 1924 with the Congressional enactment of the Indian Citizenship Act (in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota and Wyoming). Many states required that voters be 'civilized,' meaning that an American Indian would have to sever all ties with the reservation, the people and land (in California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin).

Property ownership was a prerequisite for voting; voters had to be on city and county tax rolls for voter eligibility (Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Washington). 'Residency' was a requirement to vote in four states, and Indians who resided on reservations were defined as 'nonresidents' (in Arizona, Montana, Nevada and Utah). A final disqualifier was 'federal ward'; states banned American Indians from voting because they were under government guardianship and therefore disabled or incompetent (in Arizona, Montana, Nevada and Utah).

The Citizenship Act curtailed most of these restrictions, but eight states persisted in applying restrictions to American Indian voting and holding office, until 1950 in South Dakota and Utah."

Get the Story:
Janine Pease: Voting-rights fight alive in Indian Country (The Billings Gazette 6/11)

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