Navajo Nation member Davis Filfred prefers casting a ballot the old fashioned way at a polling place. But he’s worried he may have to make a three-hour round-trip drive this November to make that happen. San Juan County in southeastern Utah switched to an all-mail ballot election system in 2014, leaving only one polling place in the northern county seat of Monticello for that election. That meant tribal members who live in far-flung corners of the county had to drive twice as far as white residents, according to a Navajo group that filed a federal lawsuit in February over the new system. The group urged U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish Wednesday to approve their request for a court order requiring the county to open nine polling places for the November election, three satellite locations for early voting and staff them with bilingual workers who can help Navajo speakers. “There’s no way for us to have a redo of the upcoming election,” said attorney Arusha Gordon, represented the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
Parrish didn’t rule Wednesday, but she questioned why she needs to issue the order if county officials already plan to open three locations for in-person voting on the Navajo Nation to supplement all-mail voting. The county did the same for the June primary election, which came three months after the lawsuit was filed.
Parrish said it seemed the group’s argument hinged mainly on the notion the county can’t be trusted rather than proof of imminent harm to Navajo voters. “I don’t think you can just say, ‘I think they’re liars, we don’t trust them,’ ” Parrish said.
Gordon said county officials have failed to come through before, prompting the need for a court-ordered requirement. One such example was the county failing to air ads on Navajo radio ahead of the primary about voting procedures, she said. Their translation of ballots and explanation of mail-in voting has also been haphazard, Gordon said.