NATIVE HEALTH becomes 1st IHS facility to receive voter registration agency status in U.S.
NATIVE HEALTH of Phoenix is the first Indian Health Service facility to secure a site designation under the National Voter Registration Act. It happened toward the end of this weekend’s annual open house and health fair on Saturday. Several high-profile local and federal guests arrived, including Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, who came to present a proclamation.
Native communities have historically avoided participating in elections. Frequent address changes and the use of P.O. boxes also make voting difficult. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2021, urging his federal agencies to address these access-related barriers and hurdles.
IHS Deputy Director Benjamin Smith, a member of the Navajo Nation, applauded this milestone in Phoenix.
“As part of this effort, President Biden pledged to designate five Indian Health Service voter registration pilot sites by the end of this calendar year,” said Smith. “So, we are honored to be here and celebrate NATIVE HEALTH as the first to gain National Voter Registration Act designation under the Indian Health Service in alignment with the president’s vision.”
Fontes spoke outside the urban clinic along North Central Avenue while an inflatable axe-throwing game was shutting down following their daylong health fair.
“In our democracy, every individual voice must count, particularly when those voices have for a long time been kept down,” said Fontes. “Unless they’ve been throwing axes over there, those voices keep on going.”
More than a third of Native Americans — about 1.2 million adults — are not registered to vote. And since nearly 3 million of them nationwide rely on IHS annually, the Biden administration believes: “The designation empowers NATIVE HEALTH to assist individuals in the voter registration process, making it easier for eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote,” as Fontes read his proclamation.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act. Although it granted Native Americans full U.S. citizenship, and the Constitution gave all U.S. citizens the right to vote, voting rights were still determined by states. Many states did not grant voting rights to Native Americans until decades later, including Arizona and New Mexico, which did so in 1948.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify that although the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted citizenship to Native Americans, voting rights were still determined by states, and many states did not grant voting rights to Native Americans until decades later.