At the end of a labyrinth of red dirt roads and surrounded by the rusty cliffs of nearby mesas, Marthleen and Shuan Stephenson live on an isolated desert homestead on the sprawling Navajo Nation [in Utah].
Until last month, you couldn’t find their home using a traditional address. Instead, the directions went like this: “Turn off U.S. Highway 191 between mile markers 1 and 2. It’s a blue house with a tan roof.”. . .
Like the Stephensons’, most homes on the Navajo Nation in southeastern Utah lack street addresses. That means packages must be shipped to businesses or relatives who live in town, many miles away. Most on the reservation get their regular mail at post office boxes, which are sometimes located in Arizona. Emergency responders, given vague home locations, are often delayed.
But it is the impact on voting that has many indigenous rights advocates deeply concerned.
“In Indian Country, you don’t have a 123 Elm Street address,” said James Tucker, a pro bono voting rights counsel for the Native American Rights Fund.
“It limits your gateway to even be able to register to vote, to putting your foot through the door to participate from the get-go.”
County by county, election administrators must know exactly where voters live to assign accurate precincts, which then determine which ballot a voter receives, which offices she votes for and at which polling location she casts a ballot. In Utah and many other largely rural states, residents can register to vote by describing their approximate location on registration forms, or even draw a rudimentary map, which is allowed by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
But in states with strict voter identification laws, officials typically require a traditional address . . .
In 2012, election officials in Apache County, Arizona, purged 500 Navajo voters from the registration system, claiming their addresses were “too obscure,” according to a field study by the Native American Rights Fund . . .
Four Directions [an organization that works to advance voting rights in Indian Country] worked with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to create an emergency addressing system just a few days before the 2018 elections. After about 20 tribal members pointed to their residences on a map, Four Directions assigned new addresses that fit the state’s new standard and were officially notarized by the tribe. In other tribes in the state, leaders helped print new tribal IDs that met the state’s requirements.