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Navajo language voting settlement extended through 2024 election

San Juan County drops racial gerrymandering case
Posted at 1:39 PM, Apr 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-04 15:54:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY — San Juan County will continue to provide voter assistance in Navajo through the 2024 elections, according to a settlement agreement filed in federal court.

The agreement, reached between the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, San Juan County and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, is an extension of an existing settlement reached over ballot access. The ACLU and Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission sued alleging that the county's switch to vote-by-mail blocked ballot access.

Navajo is primarily an unwritten language, creating challenges with the ballot itself. The county's move to vote-by-mail also limited the number of in-person voting locations, creating hurdles for Navajo voters who often have to drive hours on dirt roads just to vote.

As part of the settlement extension filed last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City and obtained by FOX 13, the county will continue to provide language assistance and in-person voting in Montezuma Creek, Navajo Mountain and Monument Valley.

"There may also be additional locations upon agreement of the parties," the settlement states.

San Juan County also agrees to provide a specific "Navajo liaison" for six months leading up to any election who will focus their efforts on "educating Navajo voters about voting-related issues such as: voter registration; Language Assistance Locations and hours of operation; voter registration instructions and deadlines; filing requirements for local offices and deadlines; ballots, mail-in ballots including instructions and deadlines, and early-voting information."

The settlement, which was originally reached in 2018, will now be extended through the 2024 election cycle. A federal judge is expected to sign off on it as plaintiffs and defendants have reached a mutual agreement.

The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and ACLU's lawsuit followed another lawsuit alleging racial gerrymandering in San Juan County districts for school board and county commission. A federal judge ruled that boundaries had been drawn to make Native Americans a political minority, even though they were a demographic majority.

In special elections, county commission seats were overturned and Native Americans became the majority. The case was dropped in 2019.