Student Note on Native Voting Rights

Noelle N. Wyman has published “Native Voting Power: Enhancing Tribal Sovereignty in Federal Elections” (PDF) in the Yale Law Journal. Here is the abstract:

Members of tribal nations are disproportionately burdened by barriers to voting, from strict voter identification and registration requirements to inadequate language assistance and inaccessible polling locations. Restrictive voting laws are on the rise, while the avenues for challenging them under the prevailing model of voting rights are narrowing. This Note advocates for a different approach to conceptualizing and combatting Native American voter suppression.

First, it advances a new jurisprudential theory centered on tribal sovereignty: suppressing the Native vote not only denies rights to individual citizens but also denies sovereign power to tribes. Historically, states required Native American people to renounce tribal membership, culture, and lands to vote. Today, states and localities continue to denigrate tribal sovereignty in the administration of elections, such as by rejecting tribal-issued IDs and interfering with tribes’ organization of their own political communities. Apart from securing the fundamental rights of individual Native citizens, Congress has a substantive duty to secure tribal sovereignty in federal election administration that is rooted in its trust obligation to tribes.

Second, this Note proposes a new legal framework for enhancing Native voting power: Congress should require states and local election officials to negotiate with federally recognized tribes toward the formation of tribal-state compacts governing federal election administration in Indian Country. This framework would relieve tribes of the burdens that they currently carry to initiate collaboration with local election officials, fill gaps in voter assistance, and challenge unlawful voting restrictions in court. Meanwhile, it would involve tribes in the process of lawmaking and regulation, enabling them to exert a measure of sovereign power over federal elections in Indian Country.