A lawsuit filed by members of the Navajo Nation who say mail-in voting in southern Utah disenfranchises tribal voters is headed for trial. U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish set a March 16 trial date Thursday in the case filed by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. Mail-in ballots are harder for Navajo voters to receive because many don’t have mailboxes and can be difficult to use for people who speak Navajo, said John Mejia with the ACLU.
Utah: Suit over vote-by-mail procedures in San Juan County is headed to trial | The Salt Lake Tribune
After recent rulings by a federal judge, a lawsuit that alleges San Juan County does not provide effective language assistance and equal voting opportunities to Navajos will go to trial. The Navajo Human Rights Commission and seven members of the Navajo Nation filed suit in February 2016 claiming 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 access to the ballot box. The defendants — San Juan County, Clerk John David Nielson, and county Commissioners Phil Lyman, Bruce Adams and Rebecca Benally — filed a counterclaim against the plaintiffs, alleging the suit is based on fabricated claims and seeking a declaration that the voting procedures comply with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
Utah: Voting rights lawsuit over Navajo voting rights in San Juan County to advance to trial | Utah policy
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Jill Parrish issued a decision in Navajo Nation Human Rights Council v. San Juan County, et al, allowing the lawsuit to proceed to a trial on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims that San Juan County is not providing effective language assistance to Navajo-speaking voters and is providing unequal voting opportunities to Navajo voters. The plaintiffs, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Council and several individual members of the Navajo Nation, are represented by counsel from DLA Piper, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU of Utah, and the ACLU Voting Rights Project. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs challenged San Juan County’s decision to switch to a mail-only voting system and offer in-person early voting only in the majority white part of the County. After plaintiffs sued in early 2016, the County announced it would reopen a limited number of polling places for election day voting and in future elections. Plaintiffs continue to assert that the County is violating the federal Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.
Facing a civil rights advisory committee, multiple Alaskans expressed concerns over Alaska Native voting rights Thursday. From challenges with location to overcoming language barriers, a group of activists discussed some of the changes they say are still needed to improve Alaska Native voting rights, particularly for those in rural areas. In 2014, a ruling in a historic lawsuit shifted the way 29 communities of voters understand election information. As part of the settlement for the Toyukak v. Treadwell lawsuit voting materials were translated into Yup’ik and Gwich’in languages. Changes, Indra Arriaga, the elections language assistance compliance manager for the state of Alaska division of elections said could be seen in the 2016 Presidential Election.
The boundaries of election districts in a southeastern Utah county are unconstitutional and violate the rights of American Indians who make up roughly half the county’s population, a federal judge has ruled for the second time. San Juan County, a roughly 7,800-square-mile county that touches Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, was ordered last year to redraw its county commission and school board election districts after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that they were unconstitutional. Last week, Shelby ruled that the county’s new maps are still unconstitutional and primarily drawn on race.
Colleen O’Brien didn’t know her usual polling place wouldn’t be open for Montana’s May 25’s special election to fill Montana’s U.S. House seat until last week. “It’s making it incredibly inconvenient at best, and it is disenfranchising an underserved, underrepresented population at worst,” O’Brien says. O’Brien votes in East Glacier, on the Blackfeet Reservation, in Glacier County. The election administrator there has decided to cut five of its usual polling places, consolidating seven down to two — not five as we erroneously reported earlier. County officials say that’s necessary to cut costs, but O’Brien, who’s not Native American, worries the consolidation will make it harder for people living in more far flung areas of the reservation to vote.
The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission told a Utah federal judge that Utah’s San Juan County can’t dodge its bid to find the county liable for failing to provide equal opportunities to vote to Navajo citizens, saying that a 2016 plan by the county didn’t provide equally accessible polling places to Navajo voters seeking to vote in person. The commission and a handful of Navajo citizens on Friday replied to the defendant’s opposition to their motion for summary judgment in a suit against San Juan County and some of its officials that claims the county’s voting procedures hinder Navajo citizens’ ability to participate in the political process on equal terms with white voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment.
North Dakota is the only state in the country without voter registration, which makes voting easier in theory. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, calls the state’s voter identification laws the most restrictive in the nation. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians are suing the state over voter identification laws. In response, a federal judge told the state it must allow voters to fill out an affidavit to vote in the 2016 general election. Lawmakers argue these affidavits allow people to vote illegally by claiming they live where they don’t.
The parties involved in a voter discrimination lawsuit between two Native American tribes and state and county officials was settled for almost half of what the tribes’ lawyers requested, with Washoe County paying the most. The Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute tribes won a case in federal court against Washoe and Mineral counties and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office on Oct. 7 for early polling and Election Day voting sites on the reservations. The tribes’ lawyers initially requested $117,000 in costs, but the suit was eventually settled for $60,000. Washoe County is on the hook for $25,000 with the state’s split at $20,000 and Mineral County at $15,000.
Montana: Lawmaker argues special elections request is unfair to Native Americans | Great Falls Tribune
A Senate Bill that would let counties hold a presumptive special election by mail ballot came under criticism Monday by a lawmaker who feared it would not be fair to people who live on reservations who vote at satellite offices. Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, told members of the Senate State Administration Committee that the proposal known as Senate Bill 305 at the behest of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders was another example of suppressing the Native American vote. She said tribes have undergone litigation with counties in order to get equal access to the polls through satellite offices. “I highly oppose it as it is a form of suppression in my district,” Stewart-Peregoy said, adding “this is another example of the government being forked-tongued.”