On September 27,  Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund held a well-attended Voter Rights Forum in Gallup at the El Morro Events Center. The event featured guest speaker Laurie Weahkee Executive Director of the Native American Voters Alliance, the Cellicion Traditional Zuni Dancers and a short film “ The ACLU Freedom Files- Voting Rights.”

The forum started with the voting rights film which brought to light communities where people’s voting power is diluted through the manipulation of political districts, intimidation at the polls and undemocratic laws. The film highlights Native Americans in South Dakota discussing how underrepresentation cheats their communities of basic services, and how they succeeded in getting district lines redrawn. And in Texas, where Hispanic activists worked to change a discriminatory election system.

The internationally acclaimed Cellicion Zuni Dance Group performed wonderful traditional dances and flute music. Our special guest speaker Laurie Weahkee wrapped up the evening by articulating our civic duties as voters and how the political system is a tool that we can utilize for policy change, and how our votes provide funding for public resources for our communities.

We had community allies like New Mexico Strong Families, New Mexico Social Justice and Equity Institute, and Gallup SOMOS setup booths to share information on the great work being done in the community from the New Mexico Medicaid Buy-In, addressing wage theft and advocating for community health. Throughout the forum we enjoyed passing out door prizes and hearing feedback from community members on the challenges they faced when voting in rural communities, like not having enough voting locations, problems at the polls with disinformation or acquiring identification to register because their rural addresses cannot be used.

Some solutions that were identified were connecting with other groups or governmental entities to collaborate on providing resources for more early voting locations or potential mobile voting for our rural and tribal communities. We also discussed providing more voter rights education in our most marginalized areas of the state.