Protecting Native American Voting Rights

with Matthew Campbell of the Native American Rights Fund

In 1948, the Supreme Court granted Native Americans the right to vote, yet barriers to voting remain today.

Matthew Campbell, Deputy Director of the Native American Rights Fund, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss voting rights issues that Native Americans face today, and efforts to protect those rights through legal advocacy.

Posted on:

October 31, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: On June 2, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act into law. It granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. However, the act did not guarantee voting rights for Natives. That was governed by state law. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I’m Tetiana Anderson. On July 15, 1948, the Supreme Court of Arizona overturned a previous ruling and granted Native Americans the right to vote. Despite that ruling, barriers to voting remained. Joining me to talk all about voting rights issues facing Native Americans today is Matthew Campbell. He is deputy director of the Native American Rights Fund, and, Matthew, thank you for being here.

Campbell: Thank you. Tetiana.

Anderson: So a White House report from 2022 basically said that Native Americans are facing some pretty specific barriers when it comes to voting rights issues. What are they facing, and how would you characterize what’s really going on?

Campbell: Yes. Thank you. Tetiana. With 9.7 million Native Americans across the country, Native Americans face unique barriers to the right to vote, whether it’s traveling 160 miles one way to get to a polling place, or traveling over 60 miles one way to obtain a state I.D., Native Americans face unique barriers that are tied to the history of discrimination they've faced in this country.

Anderson: And I know the Native American Rights Fund says the kind of thing you just talked about has been going on for some time, but I’m wondering how much progress you think there has been since 1924, when Native Americans got the right to vote?

Campbell: I think there’s been a lot of progress made since 1924. Over the last several years, we’ve seen the highest levels of turnout from Native people in recent times. But we also see, because Native people are utilizing their power and the right to vote, more barriers are being enacted. For example, we worked with a veteran, Elvis Norquay, who’s from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. He went to vote in 2016 and was turned away because he didn’t have an address on his I.D., something that does not exist in many places in North Dakota and on reservations across the country.

Anderson: So Native Americans have been taking it upon themselves and taking it upon their communities to really change what’s been going on and accessing the legal system to do so under the Voting Rights Act. What kind of cases have been filed, and what kind of successes have you seen?

Campbell: There have been many cases, dozens of cases filed by Native Americans all across the country, and we have a 90% success rate. Those cases range from voterI.D., lawsuits, access to polling places, or just the ability to be able to participate in our democracy. And the Voting Rights Act is critical to making sure that our right to vote is protected.

Anderson: The fact of the matter, though, is that Native Americans have a pretty powerful voice when it comes to the electorate. I think it was in the 2020 presidential race, Democrats and Republicans were both courting the Native American community in Arizona. That’s according to the Associated Press. They were a deciding factor there. Explain what happened.

Campbell: Yeah, I think that’s right. You know, there are more than 450,000 Native people in Arizona alone, which shows the power of the Native vote. The last presidential election was decided by less than 10,000 votes. And so it’s important for our elected leaders and our politicians to reach out to Native people, to make sure that their voices are heard and that they can participate in our democracy.

Anderson: How confident are you that that kind of result, that kind of impact, will continue from the Native American voting bloc in the future?

Campbell: Yes, Tetiana, I’m very confident. Native people are very resilient, and they work to protect their communities and their families, and they’ll be there to vote.

Anderson: I know people are going to want to know more. So what is your website? Where should they look?

Campbell: Yes,,, is where the Native American Rights Fund can be found, and you can learn more about us there.

Anderson: Matthew Campbell with the Native American Rights Fund, thank you so much for being here.

Campbell: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to you for watching, as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the U.S., just log on to I’m Tetiana Anderson.

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