A federal lawsuit saying San Juan County does not provide equal voting opportunities to Navajos has been settled less than a month before it was to go to trial. The two sides filed a joint motion Tuesday that listed the settlement’s terms — which include language assistance for Navajos at the polls — and asked U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish to dismiss the suit. The bench trial was to begin March 16. The measures will be in place for the 2018 elections. The ACLU of Utah says that according to the 2016 U.S. Census, 4,314 of the 10,275 adult citizen residents of San Juan County speak a language other than English or Spanish — primarily Navajo — with 766 of these residents, or 18 percent, also speaking English less than “very well.”
“This settlement is a significant victory for voting rights in San Juan County because it improves access and assistance to Navajo voters,” said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs. “Adding early, in-person voting, and language assistance at locations inside the Navajo Nation, where vehicle transportation and mail delivery is often slow and unreliable, will give residents improved access to the ballot box.”
The Navajo Human Rights Commission and seven members of the Navajo Nation sued in February 2016, saying San Juan County had violated the federal Voting Rights Act by closing polling places ahead of the 2014 election and moving toward a mail-only voting system, hindering their ability to vote.