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A federal judge said Wednesday that she likely will rule soon on whether to order San Juan County to take additional steps to ensure that Navajo voters have the same access to election polling places as other residents.
U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish said at the end of a hearing that she needed to look over evidence and consider the arguments attorneys for the Navajos made on a motion for a preliminary injunction to ensure an equal voting opportunity.
The Navajo Human Rights Commission and residents of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County sued in February, saying the county had violated the federal Voting Rights Act by closing polling places and moving toward a mail-only voting system, hindering Navajos' access to the ballot box.
Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney representing San Juan County, told Parrish that the median distance Navajos had to travel to the polls was now less than white residents. The county had opened three polling places on the reservation during the recent primary and staffed them with Navajo-speaking workers, he said.
But Arusha Gordon, who represents the Navajos as an attorney from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Parrish should take into account other factors, such as that Navajos have fewer cars and are poorer, therefore facing a greater burden when the number of polling places was reduced in recent years.
She also asked the judge to order the county to train poll workers on how to deal with Navajos who don't speak English.
Parrish seemed skeptical that the law and previous judicial decision favored the Navajos' request for an injunction; she said she was aware of how close Election Day is and would issue a ruling as soon as possible.