San Juan County settles Vote By Mail lawsuit
Feb 27, 2018 | 3809 views | 1 1 comments | 483 483 recommendations | email to a friend | print
San Juan County and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have settled a long-standing lawsuit regarding the county Vote By Mail (VBM) process.

The settlement is the next step to resolve a series of voting rights challenges that were initiated by the Navajo Nation.

In the settlement, San Juan County agreed to a series of steps to ensure all county residents are given the opportunity to vote. The steps are almost identical to the process the county has used since the 2016 election.

San Juan County initiated Vote By Mail in 2014 in an election that triggered the lawsuit. The primary concern seemed to be the confusion caused by VBM and a lack of election day voting locations for those who wished to vote on that day.

Changes were made in the next series of elections to open election-day voting locations in four areas of the county.

Despite the changes, the ACLU continued to pursue the lawsuit, which was scheduled to go to trial this winter before Federal Judge Robert Shelby.

San Juan County officials celebrated the settlement. A press release from the county stated, “We are committed to holding elections that are fair and accessible to all. This is a huge win for San Juan County and our Utah Navajo residents.”

County officials also expressed frustration with a costly process that has dragged on for years.

The statement includes, “During the 2016 general election, voter turnout among San Juan County Navajo voters was 69 percent, in comparison to the nationwide voter turnout of 58 percent and 47 percent turnout for Navajo Nation elections. 

“Instead of shining the spotlight on this amazing feat, the ACLU chose to sue San Juan County, stating that VBM unconstitutionally hindered Navajo ability to vote.

“What did the lawsuit accomplish? Outside of wasting taxpayer dollars that could have been used to provide services to the county citizens, nothing.

“San Juan County will continue to maintain three on-reservation polling locations for in-person voting; provide English language assistance to Navajo voters; have a Navajo-speaking county employee visit Navajo Chapter Houses to inform them of election information; place ads in the local newspapers informing all county residents of voting procedures; and have the ballot recorded in Navajo on the county website, played on the radio, and distributed to Chapter Houses.  

“There is no admission of liability, and VBM is the law in San Juan County. It is important to note that the ACLU asked San Juan County to pay over $2 million in legal fees, in comparison to San Juan County’s $100,000 legal bill.”

The final settlement did not ask for attorney fees from either side.

San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws said, “The increase in voter participation [in the 2016 election] was undoubtedly due to the fact that mail-in-ballots make it easier to vote, especially for the elderly.”

San Juan County was sued by the Navajo Nation in three separate voting rights lawsuits, including the VBM, the Commission Districts, and the School Board Districts.

In January, Judge Shelby signed an order that created new voting districts for the Commission and School Board. Elections are scheduled in November for the eight commission and school board seats.

Attorneys for the Navajo Nation are seeking more than $3 million in attorney fees for the voting district lawsuits.
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March 01, 2018
Settlement Announced in Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission

v. San Juan County

February 21, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - The parties to the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission v. San Juan County have reached a positive settlement agreement regarding plaintiffs' claims that San Juan County did not provide effective language assistance to Navajo-speaking voters and that Navajo voters had unequal voting opportunities in the County. A Motion to Dismiss has been filed requesting that the Court keep jurisdiction over the case giving it the ability to enforce the agreement going forward. At the time of this press release, the Judge has yet to sign the proposed Order.

In the settlement agreement, the County has agreed to implement various measures aimed at providing meaningful and effective language assistance and to create equal opportunities for Navajo voters. These measures will begin during the 2018 elections and will include:

>>Providing in-person voter assistance, including in the Navajo language, at several locations on the Navajo reservation during the 28 days before every election.

>>Maintaining three polling places on the Navajo reservation for Election Day voting, which will include Navajo language assistance

>>Taking various steps to ensure quality interpretation of election information and materials into the Navajo language.

"This settlement is a significant victory for voting rights in San Juan County because it improves access and assistance to Navajo voters," remarked John Mejia, Legal Director of the ACLU of Utah. "Adding early, in-person voting, and language assistance at locations inside the Navajo Nation, where vehicle transportation and mail delivery is often slow and unreliable, will give residents improved access to the ballot box."

In this case, the plaintiffs-the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and several individual members of the Navajo Nation-filed suit in early 2016 over San Juan County's decision to switch to a vote-by-mail system, and offer in-person voting in only one place located in the majority-white section of the County.

The lawsuit claimed the county did not provide effective language assistance to the region's many Navajo-speaking voters, resulting in unequal voting opportunities to Navajo voters, violating the federal Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution. According to the 2016 U.S. Census, 4,314 of the 10,275 adult citizen residents of San Juan County speak a language other than English or Spanish-primarily Navajo-with 766 of these residents (18 percent) also speaking English "less than 'very well.'"

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