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Federal appeals court denies Navajo request for ballot deadline extension
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Federal appeals court denies Navajo request for ballot deadline extension

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling Thursday denying an extension to Arizona’s mail-in ballot deadline for members of the Navajo Nation.

Six members of the Navajo tribe filed the lawsuit in the federal district court for the district of Arizona on August 26, alleging that Arizona’s requirement that mail-in ballots be received, not postmarked, before 7 PM on November 3 constituted an unconstitutional burden on their right to vote on the reservation because of issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic and reorganization of the U.S. Postal Service. The Arizona portion of the Navajo reservation is over 18,000 square miles but has only 27 postal locations and no local delivery. A ballot mailed from the reservation could take up to ten days to reach the relevant county seat. The plaintiffs requested an injunction allowing the counting of mail-in ballots from tribal members received by November 13, as long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day.

The lower court denied the motion for an injunction, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the lower court ruling. While the district court found that the ballot deadline requirement did not burden the plaintiffs’ voting rights, the appellate court did not address that issue. Instead, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. The court found that none of the six plaintiffs had demonstrated “a concrete and particularized injury,” nor were they bringing a class-action suit on behalf of the tribe as a whole. In fact, the court noted, the Navajo Nation had “distanced itself from the suit . . . emphasizing that the Nation is not a party to the lawsuit.” The court also found that the claimed injury was not redressable, in that there is no way to determine if ballots have been sent from the reservation, if the voters are enrolled members of the tribe, or if they reside on the reservation.