SALT LAKE CITY — San Juan County will not have to open several new polling places for Navajo voters, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish struck down a Navajo group’s request for a court order requiring the county to quadruple the number of polling places because of a switch to a mail-only voting system.
In her opinion, Parrish said the plaintiffs, the Navajo Human Rights Commission, failed to show why Navajo voters would be at a greater disadvantage if there will still be polling places within reach. She cited the county opening three polling sites on the reservation for the June primary as an example, according to the Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/2eEn6fc).
The county argued it brought sites closer to Navajos than they were for most white voters.
“The court concludes that the issuance of an injunction requiring San Juan County to quadruple their early-voting options at this late stage would be imprudent and ultimately ineffective,” Parrish wrote.
Arusha Gordon, the attorney representing the commission, previously argued that county officials have failed to come through before. The county failed to air ads on Navajo radio ahead of the primary about voting procedures, and their translation of ballots and explanation of mail-in voting was haphazard, Gordon added.
The battle has reignited long-festering tensions between tribal members and other residents in a rural county that sits in the Four Corners region of the West and covers the northern tip of the Navajo Nation that is mostly in Arizona and New Mexico.
Similar legal clashes have been waged in Nevada, Montana and the Dakotas over a variety of issues involving the Voting Rights Act, including access to polling places as well as unreliable U.S. mail service on reservations.
San Juan County officials defend the new system, saying it led to higher voter participation in 2014. They accused the Navajo plaintiffs of fabricating the claims in the lawsuit in an attempt to control local politics.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com