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Navajo Reservation Files Lawsuit Over Mail-In Voting In Arizona

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Vote-by-mail ballots start going out today in Arizona, the same day that the state has to respond to a lawsuit over mail-in voting filed by people on the Navajo reservation. They say they don't have access to timely Postal Service. Katherine Davis-Young with member station KJZZ in Phoenix joins us now.

Welcome.

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So what are the specific allegations in this lawsuit?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Six members of the Navajo Nation filed a complaint in late August against Arizona's secretary of state's office. And they say when it comes to mailing a ballot, it's much harder for Navajo voters than for most other Arizonans. So the plaintiffs want basically a 10-day grace period. O.J. Semans is with Four Directions, which is a Native voting rights group that helped put together the lawsuit.

OJ SEMANS: What is being asked for is not outrageous. It's fair, and it's only trying to create equality so that Natives can have an active voice and participation in the electoral process.

CHANG: Wait. You said that these voters are asking for 10 extra days for their ballots to get from the reservation to an election facility. Why is that? Can you talk about - how hard is it to vote by mail on this reservation?

DAVIS-YOUNG: The plaintiffs argue if you're a wealthy, white voter in an urban area getting mail delivered to your door every day, you've got an advantage for voting by mail. And they say it's much more challenging on the reservation. The Navajo Nation is bigger than West Virginia. It's a huge area, very rural. Most people who live there can only get mail by driving long distances. Roads could be closed. You might not have transportation, and you might not be able to get your ballot right away. And Semans, with the voting rights group, says when you send your ballot back, delivery time from the reservation to the county recorder's office can also take a lot longer.

SEMANS: If people had to go through the same hardships and the same barriers as the members of the Navajo Nation, your voting would plummet. People would not participate.

CHANG: Now, I understand a judge has already weighed in on this issue, right?

DAVIS-YOUNG: That's right. This case went before a district court judge in September, and that judge acknowledged that voting can be more inconvenient for Navajo voters. But he said that's not because the state's voting rules are discriminatory. He said this lawsuit is over the deadline to return ballots, and all these obstacles Navajo voters face won't be solved by changing that deadline. The judge also said there are other options for Navajo voters besides voting by mail. They can vote in person. They can drop their ballot off at a drop box. And the judge said Arizona's secretary of state's office has measures in place meant to help voters address these kinds of obstacles.

CHANG: OK, so what happens next in this case?

DAVIS-YOUNG: The Navajo voters in this case have filed an appeal, and we're still waiting on the state's response, which is due today. But the appeals court is expected to hear arguments starting next week.

CHANG: That is Katherine Davis-Young of member station KJZZ in Phoenix.

Thank you.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS'S "LOOPED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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