By Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - A judge is mulling whether to order officials to count mail-in ballots up to 10 extra days after election day for Navajo Nation members who live on the tribe’s reservation in Arizona and whose ballots are postmarked by the close of voting on Nov. 3.

A lawyer representing six Navajo Nation members said at a court hearing Tuesday that mail service on the reservation is much slower and less accessible than other parts of the state and argued that Arizona’s requirement that ballots be turned in to authorities by 7 p.m. on election night would disenfranchise tribal members.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office urged U.S. District Judge Murray Snow to reject the request, saying those who filed the legal challenge haven’t explained why they can’t meet the existing deadline and adding that creating a rule for only Navajo Nation members would cause confusion among other voters.

The lawsuit said people who aren’t Native American and live in affluent communities such as Scottsdale would have 25 days to cast and return their mail-in ballots, while Navajo Nation members would have only 15 days, given the slower speed of mail delivery on the Navajo reservation.

“Native American voters don’t have the same opportunity to vote by mail that other voters in Arizona have,” said attorney Chris McClure, who represents the tribal members who filed the lawsuit.

Hobbs’ office said the challengers imply that the reservation’s geographic and social-economic features will likely result in tribal members having fewer days to return their ballots, but they are merely speculating. “They are not able to show an injury in fact,” said Anuradha Sivaram, an attorney representing the secretary of state’s office.

The secretary of state’s office said it has published a guide for Native American voters and has received $1.5 million in funding to increase access to early voting and ballot drop-off options in tribal and rural communities.

The lawsuit comes amid concerns that the U.S. Postal Service will not be able to properly handle a crush of Americans voting by mail. It seeks a Nov. 13 deadline for counting votes cast by Navajo Nation members who live on the reservation in Arizona.

Last week, Snow denied a request by request by President Donald Trump’s campaign to argue against the lawsuit. The Trump campaign and various local and national Republican Party entities argued that they couldn’t count on Hobbs, who is a Democrat, to represent their interests in the case.

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