Diné voters sue Arizona over mail-in ballot deadline
By Cindy Yurth and Arlyssa Becenti
Six Navajo voters residing in Apache County have filed suit against Arizona’s secretary of state, asking that the deadline for mail-in ballots be extended due to the difficulty of voting by mail on the reservation.
Plaintiffs Darlene Yazzie, Caroline Begay, Irene Roy, Donna Williams, Leslie Begay and Alfred McRoye state in their suit, filed last Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for Arizona, that the current requirement that votes be received — not postmarked — before 7 p.m. on election day places “unconstitutional burdens on plaintiffs’ right to vote at Navajo Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and United State Postal Service reorganizational issues.”
The voters were assisted in filing the suit by Four Directions Inc., a national Native American voting rights organization. The plaintiffs note that Oct. 23 is the last day to request a mail-in ballot, which gives a voter 10 days to fill out the ballot and mail it in by election day, Nov. 3.
However, mail sent certified first class from Dennehotso, Arizona, took 10 days to arrive at the Apache County Recorder’s Office in St. Johns, Arizona, which poses a significant risk that the ballot would arrive late and not be counted. By contrast, the suit notes, a ballot sent from the affluent Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale required less than 18 hours to arrive at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix.
In addition, Navajo voters face other barriers such as lack of home mail delivery, the need for language translation, and lack of transportation to the post office to mail their ballots, the suit states.
The voters ask that the deadline be changed to count ballots as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3, as many states do. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who has asked Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate whether the Trump administration has conspired to delay ballots by recent reforms at the post office, said in a written statement to the Navajo Times that her hands are tied.
“The deadline is set by state law,” she wrote. “I understand their (plaintiffs’) concerns, which is why we are prioritizing outreach efforts in parts of the state that don’t have consistent postal service. “Under the current circumstances,” Hobbs added, “we have to make sure voters are aware of all the options open to them. This includes returning a ballot-by-mail as soon as possible or taking it to a secure drop box or a voting location.”
If the court rules differently, Hobbs said, she will comply.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the concerns about the post office are felt throughout the country, and the Secretary of State does not have authority to change the deadline without legislative action. “For us on Navajo there is going to be a letter going to the governor and legislature, letting them know there is a concern,” said Nez, “because of what is happening with the postal service nationally.”
He added he “challenged” Hobbs and the counties to provide more drop boxes for ballots. He said there is a listing his office has of where these ballot drop boxes will be located. “Some counties have been working with us to offer early voting polling places,” said Nez. “Some counties were difficult, that’s why we had to challenge them. Know that the Nation with its Department of Justice is protecting their citizens in terms of allowing them to vote … We aren’t talking about who to vote for. We are saying they should have the ability to vote.”
Nez said even though he and Vice President Myron Lizer are supporting two different political parties, they stand united in wanting people to have the ability to vote for whichever candidate they choose.
“We want as many people as possible on the Navajo Nation to vote,” said Nez. “We are a swing vote. Arizona is critical to who wins the presidency. That’s why people are reaching out.” New is one of Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes.