“[San Juan County, Utah] In this county of desert and sagebrush, Wilfred Jones has spent a lifetime angered by what his people are missing. Running water, for one. Electricity, for another. But worst of all, in his view, is that the Navajo people here lack adequate political representation. So Mr. Jones sued, and in late December, after a federal judge ruled that San Juan County’s longtime practice of packing Navajo voters into one voting district violated the United States Constitution, the county was ordered to draw new district lines for local elections.” J. Turkewitz, The New York Times
“The move could allow Navajo people to win two of three county commission seats for the first time, overturning more than a century of political domination by white residents. And the shift here is part of an escalating battle over Native American enfranchisement, one that comes amid a larger wave of voting rights movements spreading across the country. ‘It’s a historic moment for us,’ said Mr. Jones, during a drive on the county’s roller coaster dirt roads… The county is challenging the decision, arguing that the maps ordered by Judge Robert J. Shelby unconstitutionally consider race, and so discriminate against white voters.
‘In one of the poorest counties in the nation, the last thing we need is to be constantly sued by these predatory attorneys,’ said Phil Lyman, a county commissioner. ‘Outside people try to put this into a racial divide that simply doesn’t exist in San Juan County.’
Fights over indigenous voting rights are playing out in the West and the Midwest, a trend that has the potential to tip tight races in states with large native populations, like Alaska and Arizona, and to influence matters of national importance, like the future of Bears Ears National Monument, a conservation area in this county that is at the center of a fierce debate over public lands.
Today, Native Americans are suing over a new voter identification law in North Dakota, where lawyers say there is not a single driver’s license site on a reservation in a state that requires identification to vote. The outcome of the lawsuit could influence this year’s congressional election, helping to secure or flip the seat of Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat with wide Native American support.
In the battleground state of Nevada, the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiutes won a lawsuit in late 2016 that charged that tribal citizens had to travel as many as 100 miles to vote. The suit forced officials to open new polling stations in tribal areas and spurred nine other tribes to request their own election sites.
And in Alaska, where native people make up a fifth of the population, officials recently rolled out election materials in the Yup’ik, Inupiaq and Gwich’in languages, following federal rulings that found the state had failed to provide materials equivalent to those used by English speakers.
After those changes, turnout in villages rose by as much as 20 percent, increasing the political power of the state’s native residents.
Other native voting cases are proceeding or have been recently settled in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.
‘I think there is retribution,’ Mr. Adams said. ‘We’re tired of being the scapegoat, saying we’re doing everything wrong, when we try to abide by the law.”