The most basic right of self-governance, the right to vote, eluded American Indians well after passage of the 1924 Citizenship Act. As late as 1938, seven states still refused to allow Indians the right to vote (Peterson 1957, 121). Among those states was Utah. A Utah statute, adopted in 1897, shortly after statehood, required all voters to be both residents of the state and citizens of the United States but excluded, as residents, Indians living on reservations:
Any person living upon any Indian or military reservation shall not be a resident of Utah, within the meaning of this chapter, unless such a person had acquired a residence in some county prior to taking up his residence upon such Indian or military reservation.(An Act Providing for Elections 1897, 172)
The state's two-pronged test created a difficult hurdle for American Indians. Although Indians were granted citizenship in 1924, those living on reservations still failed to meet Utah's residency requirement. The prohibition remained law until 1957, leaving Utah with the distinction of being the last state to enfranchise American Indians living on reservations.
The right to vote is only the first step in effective political participation (Grofman, Handley, and Niemi 1992, 23). Additional barriers, described in previous chapters, erode effective opportunities for equal participation. This chapter explores the barriers that prevented Navajo voters living in San Juan County, Utah, from having an equal opportunity to participate in the election process and elect candidates of their choice.