Appeals court throws out lawsuit from Navajo Nation members seeking to ease Arizona ballot deadlines

Appeals court throws out lawsuit from Navajo Nation members seeking to ease Arizona ballot deadlines
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A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out a lawsuit from six Navajo Nation members seeking to ease Arizona's deadline for mail-in ballots, ruling they lack standing to bring the case.

A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the reservation residents’ allegations that they would face overwhelming difficulty in getting their ballots delivered by Election Day were overly speculative and that the court would not be able to solve the issue by extending the deadline for them.

"Crucially, the Postmark Deadline cannot be implemented because the mail ballots received and logged by the county recorder do not indicate — and Yazzie provides no way to otherwise discern — whether those ballots were cast by on-reservation Navajo Nation members," the panel said in its 15-page decision.


Darlene Yazzie and five other Nation members sued the Arizona secretary of state in August, arguing that a requirement that mail-in ballots be received by Election Day could effectively disenfranchise the reservation's voters because of its geographical isolation and lack of resources.

"Voting by mail systems rest upon the premise that all citizens have equal mail service, however, hundreds of thousands of rural Americans have non-standard mail service burdened with a range of service limits including irregular service or unreliable service, no residential delivery, excessive distances to post offices or other postal providers with limited hours of operation among other issues," they said in their lawsuit.

The deadline in Arizona to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 23. The plaintiffs argued that the lack of post offices on the reservation and the quality of its postal service will make it hard for many residents to obtain a ballot, fill it out and get it delivered by Nov. 3.

According to the complaint, it can take six to ten days for first-class or priority mail sent from certain parts of the reservation to reach the county recorder's offices where the ballots are counted.

The realities on the reservation, Yazzie's attorneys argued, mean that Nation members will have less time to vote than the rest of Arizona's population.

The plaintiffs' attorney did not immediately respond when asked for comment on the decision.


In a statement, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said: “We understand and recognize the unique circumstances addressed by the plaintiffs, but what they are asking for would be difficult to implement this close to an election. Based on the disparities some communities face in this state, we are ensuring that they are aware of the options they have for voting in this election.”

The complaint attracted the attention of the Trump campaign as well as the state and national Republican Party, but a federal judge rejected their effort to intervene in the case.

The plaintiffs appealed the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a federal district court judge rejected the lawsuit.

Updated at 10:19 p.m.