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Four Directions Helps Navajo Nation Sue Arizona Counties for Violating Native Voting Rights

To warm up for whatever voter suppression efforts part flunktionary Steve Barnett has in mind to mark his time in the Secretary of State’s office, South Dakota-based Native voting rights group Four Directions is helping the Navajo Nation sue three Arizona counties and Arizona Secretary of State Michelle Reagan for discriminating against tribal members and providing unequal ballot access.

If just the Arizona portion of the Navajo Reservation were in eastern South Dakota, it would carve a loop from Sioux Falls, up to Big Stone Lake, over to Roscoe, and down to Plankinton. That's three counties in Arizona, compared to a couple dozen in South Dakota. Maps from Google.
If just the Arizona portion of the Navajo Reservation were in eastern South Dakota, it would carve a loop from Sioux Falls, up to Big Stone Lake, over to Roscoe, and down to Plankinton. That’s three counties in Arizona, compared to a couple dozen in South Dakota. Maps from Google.

The 155-page complaint (including exhibits) alleges multiple violations of Navajo voting rights:

  1. The counties did not give 100-plus Navajo early voters a chance add missing signatures to their ballot envelopes after the election. Other counties around Arizona do give voters five business days after Election Day to “cure” such errors.
  2. The counties capriciously refused to establish additional voter registration and early voting sites on the sprawling Navajo reservation, and the lack of such sites denied Navajo voters the assistance that would have helped them avoid ballot errors like the above-mentioned omitted signatures.
  3. Arizona only provides oral translations for Navajo speakers; the state thus denies a vital service to tribal members voting by mail.

The Navajo Nation wants those 100-some tribal ballots cured and counted, but it also asks the court for future reforms:

  1. certified Navajo translators for all future early voting and election-day polling sites;
  2. radio broadcasts of early voting instructions in Navajo for 30 days before each election;
  3. additional in-person voter registration sites; and
  4. additional early voting sites on the Navajo reservation open for consistent hours for 30 days before each election.

Early voting was not easily accessible for Navajo voters. One of the complainants in the suit lives in Kayneta, a town of over 5,000, where Navajo County offered early voting for ten hours before the general election. The drive to vote in the county seat of Holbrook is 350 miles round trip—imagine driving from Flandreau to Aberdeen to vote.

The complaint recites a long and grim history of these three counties’ efforts to discriminate against American Indians—literacy tests, lawsuits, gerrymandering, even resistance to integrating the public schools.

The complaint also includes the August 8 letters that Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Attorney General Ethel Branch sent to each of the counties requesting that each county use federal funds made available under the Help American Vote Act to establish early voting centers and offering to help staff each facility for the 30 days preceding the election. Coconino County rejected that request, claiming that an agreement with the Department of Justice forbade them from opening any new early voting centers that did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Coconino County also claimed that the Secretary of State had told the counties that HAVA funds were all spent and that “The only new HAVA funds… are for cybersecurity….” Secretary Reagan said that claim was incorrect: after spending approved for election security, “there remains approximately $5 million in the HAVA account. I expect,” wrote Secretary Reagan, “and I have told Arizona’s counties, that most of this balance can and should be sent to counties to enhance their own election security needs.”

Navajo County waited over a month, until September 10, to respond to the Navajo Nation, and then responded with a disrespectful indirectness, not saying a clear “Yes” or “No” but suggesting that they couldn’t open any new early voting sites without vaults and enclosing a list of existing early voting sites and schedules.

Judge Dominic Lanza has set a hearing in the case but seems a little bothered by the fact that the Navajo Nation waited until after the election to sue:

In an order Wednesday setting a hearing in the case, Judge Dominic Lanza wrote that the Navajo Nation provided no explanation for “why they waited until two weeks after the election” to file the lawsuit.

“It is notable that many of Plaintiffs’ criticisms are directed toward actions by county election officials that occurred weeks or months before the November 2018 election,” Lanza wrote [Dustin Gardiner, “Navajo Nation Alleges Elections Officials Discriminated Against Tribe’s Voters,” Arizona Republic, 2018.11.21].

Sure, the suit comes after the harm has been done, but it seems reasonable to bring the suit and ask a judge to ensure such harm does not happen again. Rather than waiting until the rush of the last month of the 2020 election, the plaintiffs and the defendants have a chance to lay out their cases in detail give the judge time to consider a reasonable plan the protects everyone’s equal voting access.


  1. John 2018-11-23 09:01

    Your map and its caption continue making the point that SD loves big government, unnecessary government. SD has too many counties, thus too many county governments. SD has most of these excess counties in areas depopulating. Over 35 years ago the judicial branch saw the situation – then they had county judges and county courthouses that had not held a jury trial in 30 years. We couldn’t afford that then, any more than we can afford 66 county governments now.

    WY gets along fine with one-third the number of counties, one state university, and about half a dozen 2-year schools. NE gets along fine with a unicameral legislature of about 50 senators. Apparently SD just loves paying property and local sales taxes.

  2. CLCJM 2018-11-23 20:22

    Apparently, Republicans believe their platform is so unacceptable to the majority of Americans that not even the current system of gerrymandering will protect their control of the legislatures and Congress. They have to nullify huge numbers of votes. They have no conscience for even the long term effects they bring to our democracy. Hope we will somehow survive as a democracy until we can reverse this madness!

  3. Debbo 2018-11-23 23:11

    I’ve been on the Diné (Navajo) res and it is enormous and breathtaking in scope and sweeping landscape. The Hopi reservation is also there, 3 or 4 small mesas in the midst of the giant square, so I wonder if they are a part of this suit too?

    GOP is so bad at subverting what US elections are supposed to be, free exercise of citizens’ voices, that it’s become expected. We need to get to a place where anything that impedes voting rights is shocking and abhorrent.

    I think we need uniform national laws for national elections. Those laws would have to be very specific to counter GOP attempts to cheat, and penalties would have to be politically harsh.

  4. Debbo 2018-11-23 23:23

    To be clear, the GOP’s voter suppression is based on racism. Since 2008 when Obama was first elected, less educated whites have migrated to the GOP. It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the black guy/we’re racists and white supremacists, stupid.

    There’s a good article covering the work that’s been done to suss this information out. Here’s the link:

  5. mike from iowa 2018-11-24 07:22

    Debbo. i read the Sheila K article. Very interesting. So interesting I posted it at another website for libs that is crawling with racist whiteys.

  6. jerry 2018-11-24 08:04

    True that mfi, Ms. Debbo provides a very good link.

  7. jerry 2018-11-24 08:14

    Great article mfi! Ms. Debbo’s gift just keeps on giving, thanks to you both!

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-24 10:45

    John 35 years ago, did the Unified Judicial System undergo some consolidation? I’ve never thought about the connection, but could the UJS provide a template for full county consolidation?

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-24 10:58

    There is no reason to suppress the Indian vote other than racism. As a nation, we should bend over backward to put a ballot in every voter’s hand and to get that ballot safely back to the courthouse to be honestly counted. Universal voting should be as much a priority as universal education.

    Notice how universal voting and intelligence both mitigate against the fortunes of Trumpublicans and how Trumpublicans try to suppress both.

  10. OldSarg 2018-11-24 11:24

    “There is no reason to suppress the Indian vote other than racism” says the decider of all that is racist. . .

    You need a new shtick. You’re hollerin into the wind. . .

  11. Rorschach 2018-11-24 11:37

    Why would Republicans stockpile funds provided by the Help America Vote Act, rather than use those funds to actually help America vote? Because the people who don’t have access to local voting centers are generally those who would vote for Democrats. They have the same issues with access in Navajo country as they have here in Oglala Lakota County. It’s good that Four Directions is taking up the cause of holding Republicans to account for non-feasance of their duty to helping Americans vote. Of course the better way to ensure that public officials are committed to helping Americans vote is to elect Democratic public officials.

  12. Debbo 2018-11-24 11:47

    You’re right about the Hopi and Dine’.

    Racism has been a staple of humanity as long as there have been greedy low lifes eager to use it for political advantage. The GOP, led by the Racist-in-Chief, are the #1 practioners of 21st century USA.

    One sure way to identify a racist is through their eagerness to deny it exists.
    Another is when known racists like the KKK, Nazi, Nationalists, etc, support that individual, and the inverse. “I’m not saying you’re a racist, but the racists sure think you are.” It’s a dead give away.

  13. Debbo 2018-11-24 15:56

    Voter suppression is typical Pootiepublican anti-US Constitution and Bill of Rights behavior. According to Thom Hartmann, that has everything to do with their adamant opposition to Medicare for All. Those health cards would double as voter ID cards like they do in Canada and Everybody Would Have One.

    Hartmann’s persuasive article is here.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-25 08:37

    Ror, the Republicans seem more inclined to spend those HAVA funds on technology, which they buy from their corporate pals, than they do on outreach to actually help people vote, which usually involves hiring people on the reservation to help staff those voting and registration centers.

  15. Steve 2018-11-25 17:48

    John, at the other extreme Georgia’s doing fine with 159 counties in a little under 80% of South Dakota’s total area. County size and function is pretty arbitrary in every state.

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