Tribal road sign

Nevada’s Nye County, First in the Country to Offer Voting in the Shoshone Language

Thanks to a decades-old amendment to the historic Voting Rights Act, Nevada’s Clark County is federally required to issue ballots in Spanish and Tagalog.

Now Nye County will provide assistance in another non-English language: Shoshone.

Nye County will be the first and only county in the country to offer Shoshone language support – a traditional non-written language that will require qualified interpreters in the polls in the future.

“There are many barriers that Indigenous communities face, especially very rural ones,” said Allison Neswood, a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. “One is language access for tribesmen who don’t speak English.”

Local officials in any community with significant groups of non-English speaking residents are required to provide all election materials in that group’s language under the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The Census Bureau updates the list of jurisdictions every five years, using criteria based on American Community Survey data from voting-age residents who have limited English proficiency, and the percentage of adults with less than a fifth grade education which is higher than the percentage at the national level .

New data from the Census Bureau has determined that the province of Nevada is required to provide Shoshone language assistance

New data from the Census Bureau in 2021 has determined that Nye County will now be obliged to provide language help to the Duckwater Shoshone tribe of the Duckwater Reserve, including Shoshone translation of all voice material. Language support in the province will be needed until at least the 2024 and 2026 elections.

Population growth and more accurate data reporting and collection among Indigenous people likely contributed to the increase in Nye County’s documented Indigenous population, say Indigenous organizations working in the state.

According to the Census Bureau, approximately 9.7 million people now identify as Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States, compared to 5.2 million in 2010.

“After the last census, we were pleased to see that more jurisdictions were required to make their jurisdictions available to native speakers, including Nye County,” Neswood said.

Language access for the tribe is unlikely to affect the election – the reservation seats fewer than 100 registered voters – but Neswood said their job is to ensure that all Indigenous voters can exercise their right to vote without systemic barriers.

A few months ago, the Native American Rights Fund began working with Nye County election officials and tribal representatives to set up a process for personal translation at a polling station on the reservation, in time for the November general election.

Tribe elder agrees to help translate voice information

One problem facing election officials and voting attorneys in Nye County is that Shoshone is traditionally a spoken language and has no written standard, making it difficult to translate written ballot materials.

“By law, if a language is identified as historically unwritten… any information provided to English-speaking voters must be provided orally,” Neswood said.

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Nye County Clerk, Sandra Merlino, said so far a tribal elder has agreed to work as an interpreter for the polling station and provide translation services to voters on the reservation.

“There’s not really a program at the moment, hopefully something will come eventually,” said Merlino. “At this point, it’s just a start.”

Voting advocates say, however, that due to the fact that the tribes rely on postal voting, in addition to personal translation, tribes need more language assistance, including an outreach campaign, public announcements, voter information brochures and a helpline.

The Native American Rights Fund has worked on other “complex translation work” in the past, including written voice material for languages ​​spoken by Alaskan Natives such as Inuit-Unangan and Na-Dene, both of which had no written version before the influence. of non-native Alaskans.

“There’s a complexity there, but it’s possible and it’s done,” Neswood said. “Both the country and the tribe will have to solve problems and learn what methodology will work with this unique language.”

“There are still steps we hope to see,” Neswood said. “We are at the beginning of this work.”

Language help guaranteed under Section 203 of the Federal Voting Rights Act since 1975 applies to places with Asian American, Latino, Native American, and Alaska Native populations that have voting age and limited English proficiency criteria.

Nevada Native Tribes Face Barriers to Access Voting, Services

Show studies that language help and translated material probably make it easier for population groups who do not speak English well, or as a first language, to participate in elections.

But rural tribes in Nevada also deal with some other barriers to voting access† Voter services (registration offices, ballot boxes, early voting sites and polling stations on election day) are often located outside of tribal lands.

Before the 2020 general election, the Duckwater Shoshone tribe did not have a polling station on their reservation, Merlino said. The closest district to the reservation was over an hour away, meaning tribesmen had to travel about 275 miles round-trip to cast a personal early ballot or a personal election day ballot.

“It will take ongoing work to ensure that traditional native speakers that have previously been omitted feel like this process is for them too,” Neswood said, adding that she is working with the tribe to secure a drop box for post-in ballots.

Before 2019, tribal governments in Nevada did not have the option to apply for a polling station. Legislation to secure tribal voting came only after citizens of the Paiute tribes of Pyramid Lake and the Paiute tribes of the Walker River successfully sued Nevada and two counties in 2016. routinely deny the tribes early voting locations

However, since legislation was passed in 2021, even more tribes in Nevada requested permanent polling stations on their respective reservations to increase voting access for their residents.

“I think there’s more advocacy for them,” Merlino said. “There are people letting them know this is available.”

Nevada Stream, such as the Idaho Capital Sun, is part of States Newsroom, a network of news agencies supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current retains editorial independence. For questions, contact editor Hugh Jackson: [email protected] Follow Nevada Current facebook and Twitter

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