FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 7, 2022
Ragan Matteson, Campaigns & Civic Engagement Director; firstname.lastname@example.org; (505) 477-1823
Michael Jensen, Communications Director; email@example.com; (505) 362-1063
Conservation and Indigenous Leaders Issue Statement Highlighting Strategies to Combat Voter Suppression and Increase Access Ahead of General Election Day
GALLUP – On Monday, November 7, 2022, Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM) joined McKinley County and Navajo Nation partners to deliver a letter to the McKinley County Clerk outlining strategies to increase access to the ballot box for Indigenous voters. The letter concludes several months of public engagement with Eastern Navajo Agency Council Chapters and Zuni Pueblo community leaders to identify commonly experienced obstacles to voting, and offers locally-identified solutions aimed at increasing voting access.
Strategies leveraged to gather community input to inform the letter included focus groups, story sharing circles, discussions with community leaders, and a public event in partnership with the County Clerk.
Following the delivery of the letter, Manuelito Chapter Secretary Percy Anderson issued the following statement:
“With a triad of Tribal, federal, and state decisions all impacting our communities, it is imperative that all Navajo people have adequate access to exercise their right to vote to ensure our voices are represented in all decision-making spaces. The outcomes of this project shine light on a number of obstacles that continue to serve as voting barriers for our people, including a lack of language access, inconsistencies in the voting or registration process between Tribal and state governments, inadequate information resources for community engagement and education, and more.”
Iyanbito Chapter Secretary Stephen Silversmith added:
“We believe that an expansion of voting access, streamlining voter registration, providing more integrated language assistance, and an investment in constituency advocacy will make substantial strides to increase voting access in future elections.”
To amplify educational resources on ways to vote through Election Day, CVNM’s sister organization, Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM) Education Fund, also launched radio ads across stations in Cibola, McKinley, and San Juan Counties. The advertisements remind voters of the early voting deadline, the voting window on Election Day, and where to find additional resources. The ads are available in both English and Diné.
CVNM and CVNM Education Fund’s Campaigns and Civic Engagement Director Ragan Matteson issued the following statement:
“An equitable and just democracy is critical to ensuring that our government serves and represents all New Mexicans and all communities. Voters must have ready and full access to participate in our democracy, including exercising their right to vote. Over the past several years, our communities have witnessed a substantial uptick in election misinformation that has resulted in voter confusion and in some cases preventing people from voting. As we highlight in our radio ads, we encourage all voters to seek information about early and election day voting from the Secretary of State’s office to ensure that they have the most up to date information about how to safely participate in the election and where to vote.”
The recommendations are coming out now, just ahead of the 2022 General election voting deadline on November 8th, because all participants wanted to ensure as many people as possible had the opportunity to be a part of the process. Participating groups hope the recommendations will spur transformative action leading into the 2024 national election, which will take dedicated time to implement fully.
CVNM Education Fund is a nonpartisan charitable nonprofit committed to engaging the people of New Mexico in our long-standing shared values of protecting our air, land, water and the health of our communities. CVNM Education Fund does this by mobilizing people to advocate on policy, enhancing the voting process, encouraging people to vote, cultivating conservation leaders, and amplifying the voices of those most affected.
* Voting information can be found at the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Portal: www.NMVote.org
To: McKinley County Clerk and Elections Administrators
From: Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund
Date: November 7, 2022
Re: Recommendations for Expanding Voter Access in Western New Mexico
Home to the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo, western New Mexico has a diverse and substantial Indigenous population, with McKinley County (75% Indigenous) being majority Native American. These communities have historically faced unique challenges with access to voting locations and voting information resources.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, 1.2 million Native Americans are not registered to vote, and turnout rates of eligible Native American and Alaskan Natives is at 50 percent or less. New Mexico’s tribal communities were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with high case counts triggering community curfews and lockdowns regularly over the past two years. During the 2020 election cycle, this resulted in even further significant decreases in voter engagement in these areas.
Many families who quarantined did not know how to cast ballots safely, and elders were left without reliable transportation to polling locations. Communities in rural areas relied heavily on mail delivery and post office boxes, which are located in city centers. Many members of these communities face limited access to travel to postal mail facilities, making absentee voting incredibly difficult to implement comprehensively.
Despite these obstacles, the Native American vote continues to play a significant role in national, state, and local elections. With decision-making roles being decided by voters statewide, the challenges these communities uniquely face present urgent opportunities to expand voting access and participation. It is absolutely critical that Indigenous voters have full access to the polls to ensure that their voices and values are fully part of the democratic process.
While New Mexico’s Secretary of State and Governor are actively pursuing policies to address voter suppression and make voting more accessible across the state, at the local level existing voting systems and requirements mandated by County Clerks and tribal governments are often unaligned in ways that continue to impede voting access, especially in rural and Indigenous communities.
For example, early voting locations or ballot drop boxes are often concentrated in major population centers, more than an hour’s drive away from rural Indigenous communities or Chapter houses in the same county. These voters experience challenges accessing early voting sites or Election Day polling locations.
Given these considerations, in the fall of 2022 local community leaders, allies, and tribal officials in McKinley County partnered to assess voting access in Indigenous western New Mexico communities through a series of educational events, focus groups, and community surveys to offer recommendations for consideration by County Clerks and tribal elections administrators.
Feedback from community surveys and voting education events indicated that differences and inconsistencies between voter registration processes for New Mexico state elections and Navajo Nation elections often resulted in inconvenience, confusion, frustration, and disenfranchisement for community members seeking to participate in the electoral process.
Our primary objectives aim to combat voter suppression and increase voter access and participation in New Mexico’s western Indigenous communities. Findings from our assessments support the need for continued constituent advocacy, voter accessibility, and voting resources for Eastern Navajo Agency Chapters, as well as Zuni Pueblo communities, in order for constituents to fully exercise their right to vote in local, state, federal, and tribal elections.
These assessments are informed by McKinley County community input conducted in the fall of 2022 and reinforce recommendations provided by Eastern Navajo Agency Council (ENAC) Voting Rights Resolution 03-2022-069.
Assessments and Recommendations
Expanding Voting Access
Due to conditions such as geography, lack of paved roads, absence of reliable and affordable broadband connectivity, and restrictions on time and access to locations where people can register and vote, as well as manner in which people can register and vote, creates unequal opportunities for absentee, early, mail-in, and in-person voting.
Navajo residents rely on respective Chapters to vote in choosing their leaders, and Chapters within Eastern Navajo Agency have faced challenges completing facility projects because of unexpected delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and internal departmental issues. Assuring each Eastern Navajo Chapter is a reliable voting location with disability access on election days is of critical importance.
Lack of addressing in rural areas impedes voter registration, acquisition of mail-in ballots, and prevents potential voters from securing identification required for voting.
Failures to provide complete, accurate, and uniform translations of all voting materials for non-English speaking communities, and an insufficient number of trained bilingual poll workers results in some community members experiencing difficulty fully understanding more complex ballot questions. This issue especially impacts elders.
Streamlining Voter Registration
The differences between the voter registration and voting processes in Navajo Nation elections and New Mexico state elections negatively impact voter participation. For example, voter registration in the New Mexico state system was considered to be much more convenient and accessible than the registration process for Navajo Nation elections by many participants.
Each Eastern Navajo Chapter should be equipped with registered Navajo Nation and State of New Mexico Voter Registration Agents during all Chapter business hours. More frequent and better publicized voter registration events for community members to register in Navajo Nation, Local, State, and Federal elections would address raised issues. Additionally, many surveyed community members requested more frequent messaging of election dates, times, and processes.
Navajo Nation elections officials and New Mexico state elections officials should coordinate to provide coordinated, immediate, and transparent communication with constituents about expected voter delays and possible voting location changes. Additionally, bringing voting systems, registration, and voting requirements into closer alignment via coordination, resource allocation, information sharing, and cross training by tribal, local, state, and federal elections would help address confusion and encourage voter participation.
Lastly, we urge the County Clerk to allocate resources dedicated to constituent and community engagement to address voting barriers, and address obstacles collaboratively. This will take intentional work on the County’s part to ensure adequate resources are available for this engagement.
We appreciate your attention to this matter, and thank you for your consideration. We believe that ensuring all New Mexicans have adequate access to the polls is paramount to a safe and equitable democracy, and feel that addressing these measures could make substantial progress toward that vision.