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Obama administration to make push on American Indian voting rights

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Concerned that American Indians are being unfairly kept out of the voting process, the Obama administration is considering a proposal that would require voting districts with tribal land to have at least one polling site in a location chosen by the tribe's government, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday.

Holder said the Justice Department would begin consulting tribal authorities on whether it should suggest that Congress pass a law that would apply to state and local administrators whose territory includes tribal lands.

The announcement came as President Barack Obama was expected to travel to an American Indian reservation in North Dakota on Friday. Last Thursday, Holder addressed a tribal conference in the same state.

Associate Attorney General Tony West on Monday will expand upon Holder's announcement in Anchorage, Alaska, where he will address a conference held by the National Congress of American Indians.

"Our proposal would give American Indian and Alaska Native voters a right that most other citizens take for granted: a polling place in their community where they can cast a ballot and receive voter assistance to make sure their vote will be counted," West is expected to say, according a statement from the Justice Department.

Since last summer's Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Justice Department has lost some of its authority over voting practices as it is no longer in a position to provide mandatory "preclearance," or approval, of changes in voting practices in certain jurisdictions.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, 5.2 million people living in the United States identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, approximately 1.7 percent of the population.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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