Court to hear appeal in Navajo mail-in ballot case

Arizona mail-in ballot for general election, Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Dalton Walker, Indian Country Today)

Dalton Walker

Arguments before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are set for Tuesday in a lawsuit seeking more time to have reservation votes counted

Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

A request for extra time to have mail-in ballots from the Navajo Nation count this November continues this week in the form of an appeal hearing.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments Tuesday, three weeks before Election Day, in a case involving six Navajo citizens in Arizona who want mail-in ballots from residents on the vast reservation to be counted past Nov. 3.

In September, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled against giving Arizona officials an extra 10 days after Election Day to count mail-in ballots from those living on the Navajo Nation whose ballots are postmarked by the close of voting on election night. Attorney Chris McClure filed an appeal shortly after.

(Related: Navajo citizens challenge mail-in ballot ruling)

The lawsuit, filed in August, argues Arizona’s requirement that ballots be turned in to authorities by 7 p.m. on election night would disenfranchise tribal citizens because mail service on the reservation is slower and less accessible than other parts of the state.

Arizona doesn’t allow mail-in ballots to be counted if they’re not received on Election Day. Some states like Nevada, Ohio and Virginia accept postmarked ballots that arrive after the election.

OJ Semans, co-executive director of the Native voting rights group Four Directions, assisted the six Navajo Nation citizens in filing the lawsuit.

“Navajo Nation voters do not receive their full measure of opportunity in voting,” he said in an Oct. 5 statement.

The League of Women Voters of Arizona filed a brief of support of the plaintiffs and a request to present arguments in Tuesday’s hearing.

“We are humbled that the League Of Women Voters of Arizona have stepped forward to support these brave members of the Navajo Nation in the pursuit of equality at the ballot box,” Semans said in an email to Indian Country Today.

The appeal hearing comes after a separate court-ordered extension pushed back Arizona’s voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to Oct. 23. The new registration deadline falls on the same deadline day to request a ballot-by-mail in Arizona.

To listen to Tuesday’s court hearing, click here.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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