Zero Is Not Enough—Nevada Tribes Demand Voting Rights

This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in August 2016. For more on Native equal-rights battles, go here for a Navajo victory and here for an ultimately successful North Dakota lawsuit.

Many Nevada tribal members must travel long distances to get to a ballot box.


Three Nevada Paiute tribes—Pyramid Lake, Yerington and Walker River—have asked their respective counties and the state’s secretary of state for equal access to the vote. Until now, tribal members have had very limited opportunities to cast a ballot in national elections, say chairpersons Vinton Hawley, Laurie Thom and Bobby Sanchez, respectively. 

Yerington’s situation is extreme, Thom told the secretary of state: “Our tribal members have zero access to in-person voter registration, in-person early voting and in-person Election Day voting on our reservation.”

The vast distances that many tribal members must travel if they wish to vote in Nevada—ranging from scores to hundreds of miles—exacerbates the inequality, said Bret Healy, of Four Directions voting-rights group, which is helping organize the effort.

Even worse, if a Nevada precinct has less than 200 registered voters, voting occurs by mail. However, political scientist Jean Schroedel has found that this alternative tends not to work, since it depends on the unreliable mail service typically provided to reservations.

Taken together, these problems make Nevada the most unequal state for Native voters, said Healy.

The secretary of state’s office confirmed receipt of the tribes’ requests. “Secretary Cegavske is reviewing the information…and looks forward to discussing these concerns with representatives of the tribes and counties,” Deputy Secretary of State Gail Anderson wrote in an email.

Healy was optimistic. “We anticipate productive conversations and the opportunity to secure equal rights for Nevada’s Native voters,” he said.

Text and photograph c. Stephanie Woodard.