A pair of Native American tribes are planning to file a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the state of Nevada after being denied voter registration sites and polling places on tribal lands in Washoe and Mineral counties. The basis of the suit is voter disenfranchisement of a protected class under the Civil Rights Act. The plaintiffs — the Pyramid Lake Paiutes and the Walker River Paiutes — argue that a lack of access to voter registration and polling places on the reservation has hampered Native American turnout. Native American registration and turnout historically is low, mainly due to access and other barriers, according to Bret Healy, a consultant for the Native American advocacy group Four Directions who is overseeing the lawsuit. He’s handled similar requests in other states and said that if they are granted, turnout tends to increase dramatically, sometimes as much as 130 percent. “It’s because there’s more obstacles,” Healy said. “It’s not an equal access to the ballot box.”
The tribes sent letters in early August to the counties as well as the secretary of state’s office outlining their requests. The Pyramid Lake Paiutes requested eight days of voter registration, early voting from Oct. 22 through Nov. 4 and an Election Day site, all located at the tribal capital of Nixon. The Walker River Paiute Tribe requested six days of voter registration and early voting from Oct. 22 through Nov. 4, all located at the tribal capital of Schurz.
The counties denied their requests, citing the short timeframe before the Nov. 8 election. Washoe County Registrar Luanne Cutler said the requests were valid and cost wasn’t an issue, but it was logistically unfeasible so close to the Nov. 8 election date. The site would require three people to staff the polling places as well as a machine for the voting itself. The county would also have to consider maintenance if the machine were to malfunction.