Navajo Tribe Members Sue Arizona Over Concerns of Slow Mail-In Ballots

(Courthouse News photo / Brad Poole)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — An Election Day deadline for mailed ballots in Arizona is an unconstitutional burden on Navajo tribe members, many of whom live in remote areas with spotty, slow mail service, six tribe members said in a federal lawsuit.

Mail from some Navajo Nation communities can take 10 days to reach county recorder’s offices, where ballots must be received by Election Day, putting a squeeze on Navajo voters that people in other parts of the state don’t face, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, which names Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs as the sole defendant.

“Plaintiffs have fewer days to cast their ballot if they (vote by mail) in comparison to non-Indian voters who utilize the (vote-by-mail) ballot due to slower postal service when compared to affluent areas like Scottsdale, Arizona,” according to the lawsuit, which lists several examples of mail times.

First class mail from Pinon, Arizona to the Navajo County recorder (107 miles) took six days. Teec Nos Pos to the Apache County recorder (211 miles) also took six days. Mail from Dinnehotso took 10 days. By comparison, mail sent from Scottsdale, an upscale Phoenix suburb, took fewer than 18 hours to reach the Maricopa County recorder, the lawsuit says.

Mail from Teec Nos Pos travels 917 miles to get to the recorder vs. 35 miles for largely white Scottsdale, the lawsuit says.

Although Hobbs understands the tribe members’ concerns, the deadline is set by state law, she said in an emailed statement. The state is focusing outreach on areas of Arizona that don’t have consistent mail service.

“Under the current circumstances, we have to make sure voters are aware of the options available to them. This includes returning a ballot-by-mail as soon as possible or taking it to a secure dropbox or a voting location,” Hobbs said.

Her office will abide by any court ruling, she said.

As the Covid-19 pandemic lingers across the nation, mail-in voting is at an all-time high, putting an extra burden on postal and election officials scrambling to figure out how to deal with hundreds of millions of ballots.

“Voting by mail systems rest upon the premise that all citizens have equal mail service, however, hundreds of thousands of rural Americans have non-standard mail service burdened with a range of service limits,” the Navajo members argue.

The 28-page complaint asks for a temporary or permanent injunction requiring the secretary of state to count any ballots postmarked by Election Day.

The Navajo Nation covers 14 million acres across New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. More than 101,000 of the tribe’s 174,000 members live in three Arizona counties, and more than 67,000 Arizona tribe members are over 18, according to the lawsuit.

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