Law | National | Politics

Navajo citizens sue county in Utah for making it difficult to vote






A round trip from the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation to the San Juan County Courthouse in Monticello can take four hours or more. Photo by Ntsimp via Wikipedia

The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and several members of the Navajo Nation are suing San Juan County in Utah for making it harder to exercise their voting rights.

In 2014, the county closed all polling locations and required residents to send in their ballots by mail. That made it difficult for reservation residents to vote due to limited mail service and for those whose primary language is Navajo, an unwritten language.

"The mail-only system as implemented by San Juan County fails to provide adequate oral assistance to limited English proficient Native American voters, and therefore violates Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act," the complaint in Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission v. San Juan County reads.

Additionally, only one place has been designated for in-person voting or submitting an absentee ballot for the 2016 election. That's in Monticello -- a very long drive from the Utah portion of the reservation.

"The significantly greater average distance required for Navajo residents in San Juan County to reach the county seat of Monticello, in the context of socioeconomic factors including disparate rates of poverty and access to reliable public and private transportation, together with the history of racial discrimination and hostility toward Native Americans, place a severe burden upon Navajo residents to vote in person; this burden falls substantially less heavily on white residents of San Juan County," the complaint continues.

The lawsuit was filed just days after the tribe won a major voting rights case that requires the county to redraw its district system. A federal judge found that Native voters were packed into one district, making it harder for them to exercise more power in a county where they represent a virtual majority.

“It is very unfortunate that we have to go through another round of lawsuits to protect Navajo people's voting rights in San Juan County,” Leonard Gorman, the executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, said in a press release.

Get the Story:
Voting Made Difficult Leads to lawsuit (Lake Powell News 3/1)
Navajo Challenge Closure of Polling Places (Courthouse News Service 2/29)
San Juan County sued for violating Voting Rights Act (The Salt Lake Tribune 2/27)
ACLU sues San Juan County, alleges changes to voting unfair to Navajo Nation (FOX 13 News 2/26)

Related Stories:
Navajo Nation wins decision over voting districts in Utah county (2/26)