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Arizona Voting Rights Focus of Phoenix Panel Discussion

(L-R) Eduardo Sainz, of Mi Familia Vota, Samantha Pstross, of Arizona Advocacy Network and Alejandra Gomez, of Living United for Change in Arizona.

For many Native Americans in Arizona, one of the biggest obstacles to voting on Election Day is a language barrier.

Navajo Times CEO and Publisher Tom Arviso has firsthand experience about voting on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona. General elections often ignore Native languages when it comes to the election ballot and information guides, Arviso said.

Arviso was part of a recent ethnic media briefing and roundtable, “The Struggle of Voting Rights in Arizona,” held on Aug. 17 at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. The roundtable was part of New America Media’s national initiative to help ethnic media expand their coverage and knowledge base on voting-rights issues. About 25 people attended the roughly two-hour discussion. Similar roundtables were held in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas.

Arviso was the lone Native American on the diverse seven-person panel that included other media members and voting-rights advocates, mostly from the Phoenix metro area. Arviso shared obstacles many Native voters face in Arizona, including tribal identification issues at polling locations.

“Language is the biggest issue,” he said, “understanding language on the ballots and having [poll workers] who can speak not only in Navajo, but other languages.”

Sandy Close, New America Media executive director and roundtable moderator, said Arizona is a critical state for voting rights.

Navajo Times CEO and Publisher Tom Arviso shares his perspective on Arizona voting rights. Arviso was part of an ethnic media briefing and roundtable on Aug. 17 at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix.

“These series of briefings we are doing is particularly exciting for us because we are learning from people we asked to speak,” Close said. “We are learning a tremendous amount [about] what the realities are on the ground.”

Groups and organizations represented at the roundtable included Promise Arizona, Mi Familia Vota Arizona, Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation, Asian Pacific American Advocates, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), Arizona Commission of African American Affairs, the Arizona Informant newspaper and Arizona Center for Empowerment.

Alejandra Gomez, LUCHA executive director, is part of the “Viva The Vote!” campaign to register 75,000 new voters before Election Day in November.

“It’s not about a party, it’s not about a candidate, it’s about us learning the process,” Gomez said. “It’s about us taking it back and saying we are going to elect people that are going to represent the agenda issues that we care about.”

Arviso praised the panelists and their effort to educate the public about their voting rights.

“Our role as media is to join that effort and do what we can to make sure the voters, our people, are informed,” Arviso said. “I think the Native American vote, more than ever, is great. We make a difference.”