For many Native Americans living on tribal reservations, a home address is not a standard number and street name, like 735 Bleeker Street. Instead, it’s a series of instructions.
“They’ll say something like, I live off highway 86 by milepost 125 and a half,” said Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and a Democratic candidate for Pima County recorder in Arizona.
These “nontraditional addresses” complicate things for indigenous voters during a time when the majority of states have moved to voting by mail to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. A record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail in the November election. States like Nevada, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota, which all include large stretches of tribal land, held their primary elections almost entirely by mail.
While these states will offer in-person voting options in November, the prioritization of mailed ballots creates hurdles for indigenous people — about 4.7 million of whom are of voting age — who already faced voting obstacles prior to the pandemic.
Most residents on reservations receive mail at P.O. Boxes instead of their homes. But the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation — which at 4,460 square miles is about the size of Connecticut — has a single post office. That’s not unique to this one reservation. A 2020 report by Native American Rights Fund determined that some members of the Navajo Nation must travel 140 miles roundtrip for postal services. Many do not have access to personal vehicles or public transportation to get them there, said Jean Schroedel, a political science professor at Claremont Graduate School who specializes in Native American voting rights.
“This is a group that has real serious challenges in trying to do voting by mail,” Schroedel said.