Indigenous Voices in the 2022 Elections

September 5, 2022

Native American voters have been flexing their electoral power over the last three election cycles.  In fact, many national commentators cited votes from the Navajo Nation as decisive in Joe Biden winning Arizona.  Candidates in 2022, consequently, risk losing key demographics in November if they lack positions on issues central to indigenous voters.

In Nevada, in addition to candidates on the ballot, at least one ballot question usually appears in each general election. The 2022 general election is no exception and so includes three initiatives for voters to decide.  Ballot question supporters, therefore, must also integrate outreach to Native American communities into their campaigns.

Ballot Question 1 will add an equal rights amendment to the state constitution.  Unlike the federal Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which only recognizes sex as a criterion for equal treatment, Ballot Question 1 is much more inclusive.

Equality  of  rights  under  the  law  shall  not  be denied  or  abridged  by  this  State  or  any  of  its  political subdivisions  on  account  of  race,  color,  creed,  sex,  sexual orientation,  gender  identity  or  expression,  age,  disability, ancestry or national origin.

Native voices are vital in the debate on this ballot question.  Discussions around passage must include how tribal sovereignty will be recognized as a legal identifier.  Treating everyone the same does not produce equality, so, dialogue to protect current legal rights will be very important.

Ballot Question 2 removes language from Nevada’s constitution that allows employers to pay a lower minimum wage if health insurance is in their employee compensation package and it adds language to the constitution that will increase Nevada’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2024.  

Once a $12 minimum wage is achieved in 2024, it may not drop lower unless the state constitution is amended to remove this language.

Ballot Question 2 supporters must include the lived experiences of indigenous workers in their messaging for passage.   Native Americans attend college and engage in advanced job training in high numbers, so, jobs that bridge the gap between one life stage to another are vitally important. 

Ballot Question 3 is also a constitutional amendment that replaces the closed primary system for top-of-the-ticket races with open primaries that put all candidates on one ballot.  The top 5 vote-getters advance in those races to the general election where voters can rank up to 5 candidates by preference in each top-of-the-ticket general election race.

Nevada law currently requires voters to join one of the major political parties to decide who will advance to the general election in important races.  This is despite the fact one-third of Nevada voters are registered as nonpartisans and so are blocked from participating in the closed races.

Advancing five candidates to move more nominees through to the general election creates opportunities that allow voters to rank their candidates to ensure that only the person with majority support wins.

Ballot Question 3 supporters must engage indigenous voters on whether this new process supports and advances indigenous candidates and elevates candidates with cultural competency.  

Consensus-building is integral to indigenous political processes so ballot question supporters must also engage with indigenous voters over whether ranked-choice voting will introduce that same level of consensus building into the current dominant-culture political system.

It is possible more candidates participating and rewarding candidates who engage with a wider range of voters could interject indigenous wisdom into a degrading dominant system.  But to determine this, Ballot Question 3 sponsors must answer questions from the indigenous community.

The time before the November election is growing short, however, so now is the time for the three ballot question supporters to act and engage with our increasingly electorally influential indigenous neighbors.