In a 32 page complaint filed on behalf of the their attorney in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, the Walker River Paiute Tribe (WRPT) along with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (PLPT) are petitioning for in-person voter registration and in-person early voting sites on their respected reservations.
The Walker River Paiute Reservation consists of approximately 325,000 acres located primarily in Mineral County with smaller portions in Lyon and Churchill Counties.
In order to vote in person, voters must travel 70 miles round trip to Hawthorne to cast their ballot. Both tribes are requesting an in-person voter registration office, staffed with a local member of their community along with an in-person early voting site.
In a statement acquired by the Independent-News to Mineral County Clerk-Treasurer Christopher Nepper from WRPT Chairman Bobby Sanchez, the tribe’s request is as follows:
“As you are aware, our reservation is a great distance from the Mineral County courthouse and our Tribal Members
do not have similar access to as affordable transportation as do Anglos in Mineral County. Our Tribal members have zero access to in-person voter registration without driving over 70 miles round-trip and have zero access to in-person voting without driving over 70 miles round-trip.”
As explained in their complaint filed in court, both tribes cited, “Due to socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, homelessness and lack of reliable public and private transportation, and due to the history of racial discrimination and hostility towards PLPT and WRPT Tribal members, the significantly greater distance required for them to reach the voting sites will make it substantially more difficult, if not impossible, for them to take advantage of the convenience and benefits of in-person registration, in-person early voting, and election day in-person voting relative to Anglo residents of Washoe and Mineral County.”
As a remedy to this issue, Sanchez explained in his statement to Nepper that an in-person satellite voter registration office for this year’s general election could be open on the WRPT reservation, staffed by Mineral County Clerk employees and open the same hours as the county courthouse on the following days: Oct. 11 – 14 and again on Oct. 17 and 18.
“Given that the Clerk’s office is open year around in Hawthorne, we believe it is only right that you should open a satellite in-person voter registration office on our reservation for these six day,” the statement continued.
Besides having voter registration requests, Sanchez also requested an “early voting in-person site” on tribal lands open from Oct. 22 to Nov. 4. Sanchez would quote Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, stating, “Early voting is easy in Nevada, and is available to every voter. Voters can vote at any location in their respective county where early voting is offered. Early voting offers the following benefits: Makes voting more accessible to more citizens; Increases voter participation rates; Allows more accurate and efficient ballot counts; Reduces administrative costs to the taxpayer and Creates a more informed and thoughtful electorate.”
Sanchez would write, “However, all these benefits are negated by the fact that Mineral County does not offer in-person early voting on the Walker River Paiute Indian reservation. Instead, our Tribal members must travel over 70 miles round-trip for early voting access.” Sanchez asked that this decision be made by Aug. 22 of this year.
On Aug. 24, Bret Healy, council for both the WRPT and PLPT, met with Chief Deputy Scott Anderson and Deputy Secretary for Elections Wayne Thorley, of the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. Secretary of State Cegavske participated via videoconference.
Healy explained in his affidavit filed with the courts, that it was his understanding from Mineral County Clerk Nepper that “the decision regarding the Tribal Leader requests was a decision to be made by Secretary of State Cegavske office.”
Per Healy’s affidavit, the Secretary of State’s office denied that they had told Clerk Nepper that the Walker River Paiute request was a state issue.”
Healy would then read those in attendance, an email from Clerk Nepper, dated Aug. 19 which read, “Brett, I talked with the Secretary of State’s office and they have asked me not to respond as this issue is at the state level. If you have any questions the SOS [Secretary of State] will be able to provide more information. I [Nepper] was informed the state would send the counties information regarding the request. Thank You.”
Upon being asked if the Secretary of State’s office had directed Clerk Nepper, in his affidavit, Healy explained that they had admitted that they did direct Nepper from responding to the request of the WRPT.
On Aug. 24, the WRPT was denied their request for on-site, in-person voting/registration site for the 2016 general election.
Both tribes cite in their complaint that the “…failure to establish satellite offices has a significant disparate impact on PLPT and WRPT Tribal member’s voting power, denies the Plaintiffs’ [both tribes] voting rights and is an apparent effort to dilute the voting strength of PLPT and WRPT members. Plaintiffs [both tribes] allege that this failure to act, if allowed, would reinforce a “history of official racial discrimination in voting.”
Sanchez is joined on the complaint with members of the PLPT as well as Johnny Williams, Jr., an enrolled member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, who is a registered Mineral County voter and a U.S. Army combat veteran who served during the Vietnam War as well as members of the PLPT.
All Americans are protected under the United States Constitution but both tribes are citing that their 14th Amendment under the Constitution has been violated.
The 14th Amendment forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” By directly mentioning the role of the states, the 14th Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment. The 14th Amendment was adopted on July 9, 1868 and pertained to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. It is also the most cited Amendment in litigation.
American Indians were not granted the right to vote until 1924 when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act.
Sanchez was contacted by the Independent-News for comment with no follow-up call.
Nepper was also contacted for comment and stated that though he had received our request, he was unable to give any comment at the present time.