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(L-R) Claude Jackson, Gila River Indian Community Defense Service Office; Joyce Lopez, GRIC Voter Registration Board; and Angela Willeford, SRPMIC Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs inter-governmental program manager and a Get Out The Vote liaison, testify as a three-person panel at the Desert Southwest Voting Rights Hearing in Phoenix on January 11.

SRPMIC Member Testifies at Desert Southwest Voting Rights Hearing

Voting obstacles in Indian Country that often don’t get exposed or fixed were shared publicly recently at the Desert Southwest Voting Rights Hearing in Phoenix as part of an effort to improve voting conditions across the country.

Tribal citizens in Arizona, including elected leaders and advocates, testified at the all-day field hearing on January 11. The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University hosted the public hearing at its downtown Phoenix campus.

The hearing was one of 10 planned in eight regions across the U.S. with a large Native American population. A few of the hearings already have taken place, while others are scheduled in the coming months. The hearings, held by the non-partisan Native American Voting Rights Coalition (NAVRC), will document barriers to voting and registration in non-tribal elections. Information from the hearings will help promote public voter education, identify policy solutions, and consider legal remedies to expand Native access to voting, according to the coalition.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Angela Willeford, a Get Out the Vote liaison and intergovernmental program manager in the Community’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, testified at the hearing. She was part of a three-person panel with Joyce Lopez, of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) Voter Registration Board; and Claude Jackson, from the GRIC Defense Services Office.

Willeford shared a few voting issues that the SRPMIC has dealt with, including the recent confusion with the Arizona presidential preference election in 2016 that caused long lines at the Community Building and left would-be voters with plenty of questions.

During a break of public testimony on January 11 at the Desert Southwest Voting Rights Hearing in Phoenix, a group of Apache crown dancers performed. The dancing lasted roughly an hour and included audience participation.
“I don’t know how many times I had individuals coming up and saying ‘My polling location is here,’ so they go in there and the polling place is wrong,” Willeford said. “I had an individual come and say, ‘Well, my polling location is at the old BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) building.’ No one has utilized that building for years as a voting location, so they are giving them the wrong location.”

It’s rarely been easy for Native Americans to vote in non-tribal elections. Native Americans didn’t become U.S. citizens until 1924. In Arizona, two Yavapai men, Frank Harrison and Harry Austin, played huge roles in securing the Native right to vote in Arizona. It wasn’t until an Arizona Supreme Court ruling in 1948 that the original inhabitants of what is now Arizona could vote in local, state and federal elections.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Angela Willeford testified at the Desert Southwest Voting Rights Hearing on January 11. Willeford, A Get Out The Vote liaison and inter-governmental program manager in the Community's Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs shared her perspective. The hearing was at Arizona State University's College of Law in downtown Phoenix.
In 2016, Willeford received the Frank Harrison and Harry Austin Citizenship Award for her push for voting in Indian Country. She encourages Native people to vote because “our ancestors couldn’t vote, but you can.”

GRIC Governor Stephen Roe Lewis also testified. He shared examples of voter issues that members of his Community have had to deal with, as well as tribal leadership’s effort to encourage voting.

“Voting should not be hard,” Lewis said in prepared remarks. “We should be encouraging our tribal members to participate, but the barriers to voting sometimes result in voters giving up their rights. I appreciate the advances we have made, and I look forward to working with our county, state and federal partners to improve the voting capacity of our people.”

Field hearings are scheduled in Valley City, California on February 5 and in Tulsa, Oklahoma on February 23.

NAVRC includes the Native American Rights Fund, National Congress of American Indians, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, ASU College of Law, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. For more information on the coalition, visit

Field Hearings Schedule
Southern California field hearing (first of two hearings), Valley Center, California; February 5
Southern Plains field hearing, Tulsa, Oklahoma; February 23
Southwestern field hearing, Albuquerque, New Mexico; March 8-9
Northern California field hearing, Sacramento, California; April 6, 2018 (tentative)

Prospective Field Hearings for March-April
Eastern tribes field hearing(s)
Minnesota field hearing
Navajo Nation field hearing
Southern California field hearing (second of two hearings)

Past Field Hearings
Midwestern field hearing, Bismarck, North Dakota; September 5, 2017
Great Lakes field hearing, Milwaukee; October 16, 2017
Desert Southwest field hearing, Phoenix; January 11
Pacific Northwest field hearing, Portland, Oregon; January 24