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Arizona Indian Health Service facility becomes first to be designated a voter registration agency

By: - October 20, 2023 1:49 pm

Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Indigenous people in Arizona have often faced significant hurdles when registering to vote, from accessibility to rural addressing to using postal office boxes. 

To help ease those hurdles, Native Health, an urban Indian Health Services facility, has been officially designated a voter registration agency in the Phoenix area. 

Native Health is a health care facility that provides a range of programs, including primary medical, dental and behavioral health care, to Indigenous people living in urban settings. 

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes designated Native Health as a voter registration Agency on Oct. 16, empowering the organization to assist people in registering to vote through various methods such as intake registrations, registration kiosks and community registration events.

“Native Americans face unique barriers to registration and too often have been excluded from voter registration opportunities,” Fontes said in a press release. “This designation empowers Native Health to assist individuals with the voter registration process, making it easier for eligible citizens to exercise their rights and be heard as part of our democratic process.”


The designation was made under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which gives states the power to designate an organization as a Voter Registration Agency.

“Native Health becoming the first facility to gain National Voter Registration Act designation under the Indian Health Service marks a significant milestone in our commitment to promoting access to voting for Native people,” the Indian Health Service said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror. 

“We applaud their leadership as an Urban Indian Organization that is leading our efforts on this essential part of the IHS’ mission to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level,” the statement read.

With locations throughout the Phoenix area, the Secretary of State’s Office stated that Native Health emphasizes civic engagement due to its positive impact on the mental and physical health of the communities it serves.

“Native Health has emphasized civic engagement because they know that it directly impacts social determinants of health,” the proclamation states. “Native Health have worked hard to increase voter registration services to the underserved populations.”

“We appreciate the opportunity to become the first such site in Arizona,” Native Health Chief Operating Officer Deanna Sangster said in a Facebook video about the designation.

“The Indian Health Service, sSecretary of state and staff of Native Health worked cooperatively and expeditiously to make this a reality,” Sangster added. “The benefit is that American Indian and Alaskan Natives in Phoenix and other underserved populations can register to vote.”

Native Health is the first of potentially five IHS facilities to be designated a voter registration site. 

The Indian Health Service and tribally administered health programs serve approximately 2.8 million American Indians and Alaska Natives each year, according to IHS, and a significant portion of them remain unregistered to vote.

“This is a concerning fact, as civic engagement is integral to the social determinants of public health,” IHS said. “Voter registration services should be central to raising the social health of Native people.”

There are 4.7 million Native Americans of voting age, according to a Native American Rights Fund report. But only 66% of those eligible to vote are registered, leaving about 1.5 million Native people unregistered.

Arizona has one of the largest Native voting populations in the country, with more than 305,000 voting age, according to the National Congress of American Indians. Indigenous people make up 6% of Arizona’s overall population.

“Reducing barriers to voting is a hallmark of democracy,” Fontes said during the proclamation. “What is critically important here is that we understand that in our democracy, every individual voice must count, particularly when those voices have for a long time been kept down.”


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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues.