A high-powered coalition of attorneys has filed a federal voting-rights lawsuit against San Juan County, Utah. They’ve done so on behalf of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) and individual Navajo voters living in the county, which overlaps their reservation. The coalition includes The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, founded at the request of President Kennedy, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Utah and international law firm DLA Piper. The lawsuit alleges that San Juan County’s 2014 switch to mail-in elections makes it hard for non-English-speaking Navajos to vote because they can’t read the English-only ballet. Further, the change is predicated on the reservation’s unreliable postal system. If a voter doesn’t receive or understand a ballot, the option of casting one in person in the largely white northern part of the county—which has the only polling place left—is a difficult and costly trek for tribal members, who mostly live at great distances from it. These unequal burdens violate the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, says the complaint, Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission v. San Juan County et al.
“Protecting the right to vote has not resonated equally across the country,” says Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. “This causes our people to lose confidence in government. However, we at NNHRC are immersing ourselves in this issue and responding to each new challenge to our right to vote.”
For an in-depth look at San Juan County’s mail-in election problems, see the Rural America August 2015 story, Going Postal: How Mail-In Voting Thwarts Navajo Voters. According to Arusha Gordon, associate counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project, the article provided context for the attorneys and groups involved as they were crafting the lawsuit.