Navajo voters lose bid for special protections

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A group of Navajo voters lost their bid Thursday for special voting rules, after a federal appeals court said they lacked standing to bring their lawsuit, and besides, the extra time they were asking to get their ballots in just isn’t feasible.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a blow to voting-rights activist, who have pushed for expanded mailing times and procedures across the country.

Six Navajo Nation members said mail is so slow on the reservation in northern Arizona that they should have extra time to get their ballots in. They asked that as long as the ballot was postmarked by Nov. 3, that should be good enough. State law requires ballots to have been received by that date.

The plaintiffs said the new rules should only apply to Navajo Nation members who live on the reservation.

But the judges said it’s impossible for election officials to know who’s a Navajo member living on the reservation, versus one who lives off the reservation.

Besides, the judges said, the post office doesn’t always postmark ballots.

And the six voters never proved that they even planned to vote this year, much less that they faced hurdles to getting their ballots in on time, the judges said. That meant there was no concrete injury to give them standing to sue.

The Navajo Nation had distanced itself from the six plaintiffs.

But the League of Women Voters of Arizona called the ruling “deeply disappointing” for the reservation’s residents.

“Can we truly claim our democracy is strong when the voices of its native citizens are restricted and silenced again and again?” Pinny Sheoran, a league official, said.

While the Navajo reservation spans states, the lawsuit concerned three counties in Arizona’s northeastern corner.

The plaintiffs said mail on the reservation is slow, and many Navajo don’t get postal service at their remote residences and have to make special trips to the post office to collect and send mail. That remoteness, the lack of a car, and sometimes language and other factors such as education, make traveling — and completing a ballot — difficult.

The judges said they were “sympathetic” to those claims, but since the voters lacked standing the court couldn’t grant any relief.

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