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Nevada tribes sue county officials over ‘grossly unequal’ voting opportunities

The headquarters of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nev.
Nevada Arts Council Folklife Archives
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Flickr Creative Commons
The headquarters of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nev.

The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation filed a lawsuit on Sept. 16 against Elko County, Nev., and several county officials alleging “grossly unequal voting opportunities” for the 2022 election.

The suit claims Elko County is giving tribal members on the reservation an early voting window of just eight hours and no opportunities to register or vote in person on Election Day.

Meanwhile, residents of the city of Elko and nearby towns have 108 hours during which they can vote early and 12 more on Election Day.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Elko County’s population is 87.5% white.

Native American advocacy group Four Directions Native Vote is assisting the tribes with the lawsuit. Bret Healy, a consultant with the group, noted that Nevada’s constitution requires equal rights for all voters after the passage of Assembly Bill 345 in 2019.

“Simply put, Elko County is trying to have a rigged election,” Healy said.

Healy said the county is providing one polling location on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation that will be open for four hours on two Fridays prior to the election. If a tribal member wants to vote outside of their allotted 8 hours, they’d have to travel roughly 200 miles round trip to the city of Elko.

“That’s a $150 excursion,” said Healy, citing Internal Revenue Service mileage rates. “And if you don’t have reliable transportation, and if you don’t have lots of extra money, that’s an obstacle.”

The median household income of Owyhee, Nev., which the tribe considers its capital, is $46,250, according to the 2020 census. Elko County’s median household income is $79,375.

Notably, all registered voters in Nevada have the option of voting by mail this year as a result of the passage of Assembly Bill 321 in 2021.

The Duck Valley Indian Reservation is located in northern Nevada and southern Idaho, but the majority of tribal members live on the Nevada side.

Elsewhere, a Montana court recently struck down two state laws that restrict Native American voting rights. One law would have put an end to Election Day registration, and the other would have prohibited third-party ballot assistance.

According to the Native American Rights Fund, Native American voters living on reservations heavily rely on Election Day registration and ballot assistance to cast votes in Montana.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Copyright 2022 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.

Kaleb Roedel
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