The Missing Native Vote

Plaintiffs from three Montana reservations (Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Crow) led by Mark Wandering Medicine, a Northern Cheyenne spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran, have filed a federal lawsuit for equal access to voting. In Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch, the plaintiffs filed against county elections officials, the secretary of state, and top elections officer, Linda McCulloch to demand equal access on their reservations to the absentee voting and late registration currently offered only in county courthouses. Wandering Medicine, who experience mirrors many Native Americans in Montana, would have to travel 180 miles round trip to get to the nearest county courthouse.

Read the article at the Bill Moyers and Company website. This excerpt describes the nature of the problem:

“To determine how distance and poverty affect Native voting access, the DOJ asked University of Wyoming geography professor Gerald R. Webster to examine the three Montana reservations involved in Wandering Medicine. Webster found that Indians on those reservations traveled two to three times farther than whites to get to a county courthouse. Meanwhile, depending on the reservation, Indians were two to three times more likely not to have a vehicle for the trip. They were also less likely to have money to fill the gas tank: In Blaine County, which overlaps Fort Belknap, Webster found that the Native poverty rate was 2.5 times that of whites; in Rosebud County, which overlaps the Northern Cheyenne reservation, Natives were four times more likely than whites to live below the poverty line.

Fear also keeps Natives away from white towns and their courthouses, establishing an apartheid condition in American Indian communities. “They are today the poorest, most isolated and in some quarters, the most racially castigated population in the country,” writes sociologist Garth Massey, a University of Wyoming emeritus professor who submitted an expert report to the court on behalf of the plaintiffs.”