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A federal judge has denied motions to throw out some claims in a lawsuit that alleges vote-by-mail procedures adopted by San Juan County hinder the ability of Navajo citizens to participate in elections on equal terms with white citizens.
U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish on Monday rejected defendants' arguments that claims in the suit against San Juan County commissioners in their official capacity are redundant and should be dismissed because the county is also a named defendant.
Two other motions, one to dismiss claims brought by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and the other to throw out claims brought by one of the seven tribal members who are plaintiffs, also were denied.
The suit, filed in February, says the county closed all polling places and the only way to vote in person in the 2014 election was to go to the clerk's office in Monticello, which is not on the reservation. The plaintiffs are seeking an order reopening polling sites and requiring translation services to Navajo-speaking voters for all future elections.
The defendants San Juan County; clerk John David Nielson; and county Commissioners Phil Lyman, Bruce Adams and Rebecca Benally deny that the vote-by-mail process harms Navajo voters and say polling stations are still available.
They have filed a counterclaim alleging the suit is based on fabricated claims and are seeking a declaration that San Juan County voting procedures comply with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, as well as an award of attorneys' fees and punitive damages.
In her ruling, Parrish said even if the claims against the commissioners are redundant, the defendants "have not explained why such redundancy is grounds for dismissal."
The judge also ruled that tribal member Mark Maryboy, who argues he is harmed by the distance he has to travel to vote in person, and the human rights commission both have standing to sue.