Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Federal legislation provides critical pathways for Montanans

by Ronnie Jo Horse and Ta’jin Perez
| November 19, 2023 12:00 AM

In Montana, we thrive in close-knit communities, sharing connections that enhance our experiences and transcend cultural differences. The work of Western Native Voice exemplifies this unity, empowering Indigenous Montanans to become leaders in our communities and make a difference in our state. While our commitment to advance fundamental rights, foster participation and educate voters may be rooted in Indian Country, it extends to every corner of the state, protecting the freedoms all Americans hold dear, from Billings to Blackfeet.

Voting is a right that our ancestors fought for, a cornerstone of civic life. It’s the cornerstone of civic participation and must be accessible to everyone. It’s how our voices are heard. Yet, red tape often hinders Montanans, especially those in rural and Tribal Nations. Voting should be simple and accessible to all.

The Freedom to Vote Act and Native American Voting Rights Act promise to dismantle these barriers, championing every Montanan’s voice, regardless of background. These acts rectify the wrongs in our system and break down the barriers that suppress people’s voices. With support in Congress, they could make voting more accessible and ensure no one in our state is left behind. Long drives to polling centers and endless lines deter voters every election cycle. The Freedom to Vote Act and Native American Voting Rights Act will cut down on these aggravating hurdles by increasing the number of polling places, especially on reservations. As the Indigenous community has known for too long, this is not a partisan issue; it’s a fundamental right that should be granted to every American. If we allow our freedoms to become politicized, it will cause irreparable damage to our democracy.

While we must remove barriers to voting, we cannot ignore additional threats to our democracy. Mistrust in our elections is only growing, and we’ve seen its effects across our communities, with stagnating turnout at the polls. In many areas, there isn’t enough opportunity to engage in civic duties, whether registering to vote, participating in public service, or simply advocating for one’s beliefs. People feel ignored by our leaders, and we must empower them to cast their vote - for the sake of our country and our values. By encouraging our communities to become more involved, we can ensure every person exercises their fundamental rights.

The Freedom to Vote Act and Native American Voting Rights Act expand voter registration sites and extend pathways to vote for everyone in Montana, making this vital process uniform throughout our state and country. The Freedom to Vote Act also provides grants to recruit a new generation of election workers, ensuring that all people, even those in our state’s most underserved communities, can actively participate in our democracy. 

Montana’s elected officials should prove their commitment to Montanans and all Indigenous people by supporting these bills that resonate with the core values of equity and justice, amplifying the call for a more accessible and transparent electoral process. 

However, our journey towards a fully representative democracy is far from over. The passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the reintroduction of the Native Voting Rights Act in Congress are critical next steps in this journey. These pieces of legislation fortify the structural integrity of our electoral system and foster an inclusive democracy that places value on every citizen’s voice.

The path to a thriving, robust state is paved with the stones of justice, representation, and active civic engagement. Let us tread this path together to fulfill the promise of our democracy and reflect the rich diversity that makes Montana and our nation truly great.

Ta’jin Perez is Western Native Voice’s Deputy Director. Ronnie Jo Horse is Western Native Voice’s Executive Director.