Two Native American tribes are taking the state to court over allegations that it is too difficult for Native people to vote in elections. The lawsuit was filed in a federal district court on Sept. 7.
Specifically, the Walker River Paiute Tribe and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe are suing Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Washoe and Mineral counties over polling sites not being located on tribal properties.
Walker River Paiute Chairman Bobby Sanchez and Pyramid Lake Paiute Chairman Vinton Hawley are the plaintiffs in the case. Pyramid Lake Paiutes want the polling sites to be located in their tribe’s capital. Both tribes are asking for a place where the tribes can register to vote in person.
“If we have the same access and opportunities, we will be able to increase participation by tribal members,” Hawley told the Associated Press.
The complaint filed with the federal court in Reno states the tribes believe the actions of the state and counties are in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Nevada.
Members of the tribes have to travel close to 100 miles to get to their registered voting locations in Sparks and Hawthorne, which causes issues for those without cars and the elderly.
“Our votes matter. Our votes count just as much as here in Reno and the rest of the country,” Sanchez said in an interview with News 4.
The complaint also states that “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” than that of their white counterparts.
“We’re a rural community, and some of the tribal members don’t have the resources to travel the round-trip distance,” Hawley told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “A lot of the tribal members are elderly; they’re not able to drive. They don’t have the funds to purchase gas and go back and forth.”
The tribal leaders told 13 Action News in Las Vegas that they had reached out to the counties to discuss a better way for Native Americans to vote, but they were denied.
The tribes have a combined 50,000 voters inconvenienced by the location of the polling sites, according to the suit.
Bret Healy, a consultant for the Native American advocacy group Four Directions and who is overseeing the lawsuit, said voter registration and turnout among Native Americans is at an all-time low, according to the RGJ.
Healy has handled similar lawsuits in other states, and he told the RGJ that when the cases have been granted, voter turnout among Native Americans increases by 130 percent.
Voter registrars told The Associated Press there wouldn’t be enough time to set up registration stations on tribal lands before voter registration ends on Oct. 18 and early voting begins on Oct. 22.
“With Election Day fast-approaching, the registrar’s plan for the general election remains in place and her decision regarding this matter is final,” said a statement released Wednesday by Washoe County Registrar Luanne Cutler.
Cutler also told the RGJ that she would be happy to discuss the tribes’ concerns after the election is over.
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.