Federal Judge Rejects Request by Navajos for Extra Time to Count Their Ballots

September 29, 2020 by Dan McCue

A federal judge in Arizona has rejected a request from members of the Navajo Nation that elections officials be given 10 extra days to count their mail-in ballots.

The six Navajo plaintiffs had asked for the extension because service is slow on the reservation and less accessible than in other parts of the state.

But Chief U.S. District Judge Murray Snow rejected the request, telling the plaintiffs in the process that their argument for more time was technically flawed.

The plaintiffs had argued that due to the slower speed of mail delivery on the reservation, the time they have to complete their ballots is significantly less than that for residents of more affluent communities.

That, coupled with Arizona’s requirement that ballots be turned in or postmarked by the 7 p.m. close of polling places on election night, would disenfranchise some voters, they said.

Among those objecting to the request was Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who argued the tribe had not explained why they can’t meet the deadline. She also maintained that creating a vote-count extension expressly for the Navajo Nation would cause confusion among other voters.

Snow, who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush, acknowledged in his Sept. 25 ruling that most Navajo Nation residents don’t have access to home delivery of their mail and must travel long distances to pick it up.

But he also found that in arguing hardship on behalf of voters on the reservation, attorneys for the plaintiffs compared mail delivery times only to those in Arizona’s cities, and not other comparable rural areas in the state.

In addition, Snow said, Navajo voters have other remedies at their disposal for delivering completed ballots, including hand delivering them to their local county recorder’s offices, leaving them in drop boxes, taking them to early voting locations, or even dropping them off at polling places on election day.

Snow, who is perhaps best known for his May 2013 ruling that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies routinely violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by racially profiling Hispanics, wrote that “As Navajo voters have access to several voting options that allow them to turn their ballots in later than the return posting of their ballot allows, plaintiffs have not shown a disparate burden.”

In an earlier ruling in the case, Snow denied a request from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to intervene in the case. The GOP, which also object to the Navajo Nation’s request, said it couldn’t trust Hobbs, a Democrat, to represent their interests in the case.

The secretary of state’s office said it has published a guide for Native American voters and has received $1.5 million in funding to increase access to early voting and ballot drop-off options in tribal and rural communities.

The plaintiffs have not announced whether they will appeal.

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