San Juan voters’ rights lawsuit will go to trial

WINDOW ROCK

A lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission over voting practices in San Juan County, Utah, will go to trial.

U.S. District Judge Jill N. Parrish last Thursday denied both plaintiff’s and defendant’s motions for summary judgment, clearing the way for the case to proceed to trial in U.S. District Court.

She also dismissed the commission’s claims involving 2014 voting practices, which have since been substantially altered, but allowed litigation to proceed based on the practices used in 2016, which the commission argues are still inadequate to ensure the rights of Navajo voters in the county.

Parrish also denied San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally’s request to be dropped from the list of defendants (which includes the county, each individual commissioner and the county clerk) based on the fact that she was not on the commission when the 2014 voting rules were put into practice.

In the lawsuit, filed Feb. 25, 2016, the commission and several individual Navajo voters argue that the county’s 2014 decision to close rural polling places and transition to mail-in ballots disenfranchised Navajo-speaking and rural voters. For the June 2016 elections, the county opened three polling places on the Navajo Reservation in addition to the election center in Monticello, and provided interpreters at all the locations, while also offering the mail-in option.

Although it didn’t amend its complaint, the commission filed further documents stating the 2016 practices still discriminated against rural voters under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and that they discriminated against Navajo voters under sections 2 and 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

Parrish dismissed the plaintiffs’ Equal Protection argument, saying the commission had failed to provide evidence that the three rural polling places were inadequate for rural voters, but entertained the race-based arguments.


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Categories: News

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at editor@navajotimes.com.