Federal Judge Denies Reservation Residents Additional Time For Ballot Submittals
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A federal judge won't give reservation residents more time to submit their early ballots and ensure they will be counted.
In an order late Friday. U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow said challengers provided no proof that requiring ballots to be received by county officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day is a greater burden on members of the Navajo Nation than anywhere else. And he said there was no evidence that votes from the reservation were discarded due to late filing at a greater rate than from anywhere else.
Potentially more significant, Snow said there was no showing that the deadline has a disparate impact on Navajos who, as Native Americans, are a "protected class'' under federal voting laws. Instead, the judge said, the time it takes for Navajos to get their votes received in to county offices may be no different for them than for it is for other, non-Native voters living in rural areas.
And there's something else.
Snow said it's not like the deadline -- and slow mail service -- leaves reservation voters without options. Snow pointed out that there are alternatives that allow votes to be counted even if it is too late to drop them in the mail, including bringing them to polling locations.
Friday's ruling is a defeat for challengers who sought a ruling from Snow requiring counties to tabulate any ballot that is postmarked by Election Day.
They presented evidence showing how much longer it takes for a ballot to first get from county election officials to reservation addresses than those living in urban areas. On the other side, it also takes longer for a ballot mailed from the reservation to get to where it needs to be.
That, the attorney for challengers argued, shows discrimination which he said can be resolved by providing the extra time for ballots to be counted.
Snow said the lawsuit fails for another reason.
He said laws can be challenged if they were enacted for discriminatory reasons. But Snow said there is no evidence that the 7 p.m. deadline was put into place with the intent of disenfranchising Navajo voters.
Friday's ruling may not be the last word.
Snow's order simply denies a request for an order to immediately provide more time for ballots to be received. But it still leaves the door open for challengers to see a full-blown hearing on the issue in hopes of getting changes for future elections.