Walker River Paiute Tribe won an emergency court order, along with Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, in federal court on Friday, Oct. 7 in which they accused Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske along with Mineral and Washoe counties of discriminating against them under the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du issued a temporary injunction in Reno which will require satellite polling places on both of the reservations before November’s election.
Both Walker River and Pyramid Lake tribes stated that their members were denied equal access to the polls due to the long distances that some have to drive to vote early or to cast their ballots on voting day in November.
Judge Du explained that the tribes proved that they will suffer irreparable harm if she hadn’t intervened with the election “less than five weeks away”.
“The court finds that the public interest is served by a preliminary injunction, she wrote in her 20-page ruling issued shortly after 5 p.m. on Oct. 7.
Lawyers for Washoe County said they would consider an appeal.
The two tribes asked in their Sept. 7 lawsuit for a relief in three different categories – on-site voter registration, early voting and in-person voting on Election Day.
Judge Du denied the request for the injunction in regards to the on-site voter registration at either reservation. She stated all the individual plaintiff’s listed in the original case were already registered to vote so they cannot show harm in that regard.
On Judge Du’s orders, polling sites are to be established for early voting at both Walker River and Pyramid Lake reservations and a voting place on Election Day in Nixon on the Pyramid Lake reservation. The Walker River tribe already has a polling place provided for Election Day on the reservation in Schurz, where the early-voting option will be added under Judge Du’s order.
Both counties argued that the expense would present a huge and costly technical challenge at this late of a date and Secretary of State Cegavske argued that “she has no authority to intervene.”
“The court acknowledges the substantial costs that injunctive relief places upon the counties, especially at this late hour,” the judge wrote.
“It is difficult, however, to balance a financial and logistical hardship with a burden on constitutional rights,” she added.
Both Mineral and Washoe counties argued that those who do not want to drive to vote could still vote via mail or online.
But Judge Du said in her ruling that the distance the members of the tribe’s must travel, combined with other costs “bear more heavily” on them “especially given their relative difficulty in accessing transportation, affording travel, and experience of) off-reservation discrimination and intimidation.”
Nevada is considered a key ‘swing state’ in this upcoming presidential election. Like most minorities, Native Americans are more likely to vote Democratic rather than Republican when choosing their candidates. With the contest for retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s seat also up for grabs, the tribal vote could help to determine control of who enters into that position.
Mineral County District Attorney Sean Rowe commented late Tuesday about the ruling, “Mineral County is not appealing Judge Du’s ruling on the Order on Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Upon receipt of Judge Du’s Order, Clerk Nepper immediately began taking the steps to implement the Order. Because of the pending case, we cannot commenting further.”