FORT MCDOWELL YAVAPAI NATION, Ariz. - Navajo Nation Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan, recently congratulated
Agnes Laughter after she received the Frank Harrison and Harry Austin Citizenship Award July 15 at Fort McDowell.
Two years after being denied her voting rights because she lacked identification aside from her thumbprint, Agnes Laughter was recognized at a banquet commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Native American Voting Rights Celebration hosted by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.
Laughter received the award for her willingness to become the sole Native American to step forward and contest the voter identification requirements of Proposition 200 in litigation filed in the U.S. District Court of Arizona on June 20, 2006.
She joined the Navajo Nation in challenging the constitutionality of the in-person voting procedures that require certain identification be presented at the poll in order to receive a regular ballot.
In 2006, Laughter walked into an election precinct to cast her vote when she was questioned by an election worker about her identity.
"'You're not welcome here because you don't have the proper ID,'" Laughter recalled what the election official told her. "I was so humiliated. It was like I didn't even exist. I raise my thumb today to tell you my thumbprint is who I will always be. Nobody can take that away from me."
In the 2006 elections, several hundred Navajo voters, including Laughter, were denied the right to vote for failure to provide proper identification. American Indians are less likely to have the identification required by the Proposition 200 procedures.
In April 2008, working on behalf of the Navajo Nation and Laughter, Judith Dworkin of the law firm of Sacks Tierney, reached a settlement with the state and county defendants which required the state secretary to revise its polling procedures for Native American voters.
On May 22, 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice revised procedures to provide a broader non-exhaustive list of documents that may serve as tribal identification to vote. Laughter's award was recognition from Native Americans and tribes throughout Arizona for her efforts in ensuring the continued right to vote for Native Americans in Arizona.
Laughter was born at home in a traditional Navajo hogan in 1932 and does not have a birth certificate, speaks no English and has never attended school. She is unable to produce any of the forms of identification established in the implementing procedures.
She requires language assistance at the polls to translate the ballot from English into Navajo. Until Proposition 200 was enacted, her sole form of identification to vote was her thumbprint.
In front of about 250 tribal leaders, state officials and representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties, Laughter received the highest award. Speaking in Navajo, she told the audience that when poll workers told her that she could not vote in the September 2006 election because she didn't have a piece of paper that said who she was, she felt worthless and was committed to secure revisions to the procedures.
Representatives from the Navajo Election Administration attended the banquet on behalf of the Navajo Nation and delivered a proclamation that was adopted by the election board that commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the Native American Right to Vote.
The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona created the Frank Harrison and Harry Austin Citizenship Award on the 50th anniversary of the unanimous Arizona Supreme Court decision that recognized Indian voting rights.
The late Harrison and Austin, both of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, were the primary trailblazers who helped secure voting rights for the American Indian people of Arizona.
On July 21, the 21st Navajo Nation Council offered recognition to Laughter for her role in filing the lawsuit with the Navajo Nation against the state of Arizona's Proposition 200.