This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A federal judge denied a motion Friday that would have ordered San Juan County to take additional steps to ensure that Navajo voters have equal access to election polling sites.
The Navajo Human Rights Commission and residents of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County filed a lawsuit in February, alleging the county had violated the federal Voting Rights Act by closing polling places and moving toward a mail-only voting system, hindering access to the ballot box.
But for primary voting in June, the county opened three polling places on the reservation, saying it was bringing the sites closer to Navajos than they are to most white voters.
In her decision to deny the motion for a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish wrote that she acknowledged that "the Navajo people, as a whole, are subject to some of the most severe and debilitating impoverishment in the nation." Still, she wrote, the plaintiffs did not demonstrate why those barriers put Navajos at a greater disadvantage than white voters despite closer polling locations.
The plaintiffs also argued that mail-in voting was not equally open to Navajo voters in June, Parrish said, but failed to offer "any solution to the alleged problem."
She added that it would be logistically impossible at this late date for the county "to implement procedures that would actually cure any inequity in early voting."
Though the original lawsuit was filed in February, plaintiffs did not file the motion for preliminary injunctive relief until August, she wrote.
"The court considers [the] plaintiffs' delay to weigh against issuance of an injunction altering early-voting practices," Parrish wrote. "The court concludes that the issuance of an injunction requiring San Juan County to quadruple their early-voting options at this late stage would be imprudent and ultimately ineffective."
And Parish found that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the county's June procedures were ineffective.