Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
February 5, 2024
Tribal members who reside on a reservation or colony in Nevada can now register and vote from the comfort of their own homes using an electronic ballot system, making 2024 Nevada’s most accessible election year for Native American voters yet.
The 2024 Presidential Preference Primary Election will be the first election where Native voters residing on reservations in Nevada can vote using Nevada’s Effective Absentee System for Elections (EASE) system, which allows Nevada military members, residents living overseas and voters with disabilities to mark their ballots electronically.
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo signed the bill expanding EASE last summer, which also requires election clerks to meet with all tribes located in their jurisdiction to coordinate voting locations prior to all elections.
“This is the first election where EASE is available to anyone who meets the criteria of being a member of a federally recognized tribe or band and living on a reservation,” said Secretary of State’s Chief Deputy Gabriel Di Chiara, who also serves as the department’s tribal liaison.
“We were able to make it happen right in time for the presidential preference primary,” he continued.
The secure online ballot-delivery system allows voters to retrieve their signature from existing information — like county clerk records — to register, request a ballot, and electronically transmit their ballot back to their local election office for validation in one seamless session. Under the system, new voters can also use EASE to register and vote by uploading an image of their identification card and signature.
EASE “is entirely secure, and it is impossible to double vote via EASE,” Di Chiara said.
First established in 2014 for eligible military and overseas voters, EASE was expanded to voters with disabilities in 2021, giving those with mobility issues the ability to cast their vote privately and independently.
Tribal communities in Nevada share many of the same registration and voting barriers Nevada military members and residents living overseas face, like geographic isolation and unreliable mail delivery.
“People who live in tribal nations often have to drive hours in their own reservation areas just to drop off a mail-in-ballot at the post office or go to a polling site,” said Tammi Tiger, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Participatory Democracy.
Nevada’s rural reservations can also lack traditional addresses, with named streets and numbered homes, making it difficult for tribal citizens to receive and return mailed ballots. Only 35% of all reservations and colonies in Nevada have home mail service, leaving a P.O. box — often located in post offices several miles from their homes — as the only option.
For years, Nevada’s tribal citizens have also voiced their need for greater access to voter registration, said Tiger. One of the biggest advantages of the EASE system is that it allows tribal citizens to use their tribal IDs to verify their identity for online voter registration, significantly reducing systemic barriers for Nevada’s tribal communities.
After direction by Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar to improve access to voting for tribal voters living on reservations, tribes, voting advocacy groups, and election officials landed on EASE as an all-encompassing solution to tackle barriers tribal voters still face casting a ballot.
“By sitting down and talking through what made sense, EASE checked all the boxes,” Di Chiara said. “It allowed members of tribes and bands in rural communities to register to vote and vote, using their tribal ID. It’s a tool that we could provide verification on and have control over. And it’s easy to use.”
It’s difficult to say how many tribal citizens have taken or will take advantage of EASE during the 2024 Presidential Preference Primary Election, said Stacey Montooth, the executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission. Statewide, 209 EASE ballots have been returned and accepted, according to data from the secretary of state’s office updated Saturday morning.
But there’s a lot of evidence that Native voters are turning out more than ever before, said Montooth.
System follows earlier reforms
An analysis of registered voters and zip codes revealed that during the 2020 presidential election, Mineral County, home to the Walker River Paiute Tribe, recorded its highest voter turnout at more than 80%, exceeding the total statewide turnout rate of 78% that year.
“One of the other reasons we know that Indian Country is much more engaged in the civic process is because of the number of Native Americans who are running for office,” Montooth said. “We’re not just going to the polls and voting. You know, we’re getting our names on ballots.”
During the 2022 Nevada State Assembly elections, Shea Backus, Cherokee, regained the seat she lost to Jacob Deaville as the state assembly member for district 37 in Las Vegas. That same year, Mercedes Krause, Oglala Lakota, was the Democratic nominee for Nevada’s 2nd congressional district. She ultimately lost to incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Amodei.
“Dare I say it’s a movement,” Montooth said.
This year’s election reforms also build on a slew of changes in recent years.
In 2021, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill allowing tribes to request a polling site or ballot drop box on their reservation that would automatically return each election cycle. That same year, the U.S. Census Bureau required Nye County to administer federal elections in the native Shoshone language due to the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties whose voting-age population is more than 5% Native American to provide language assistance.
The Duckwater Shoshone Tribe in Nye County now “has an elder there helping to translate the ballot for their members,” said Tiger.
“Where would you even imagine that? I felt like that should be at every reservation, so the elders feel more included. Now those who would like to hear it in their own language or need to hear it in their own language have that translation available,” Tiger continued.
This year marks 100 years since the federal Indian Citizenship Act recognized U.S. citizenship for all indigenous people in the U.S., Tiger noted. And despite recent gains and the higher turnout for Native voters in recent elections, there’s more work to do to make elections truly equitable for Native Americans, said Tiger.
“We’re setting up the infrastructure to build a statewide ecosystem for our tribal communities on reservation land and in urban areas, so we can coordinate our resources and support one another statewide,” Tiger said.
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