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Judge denies Pascua Yaqui tribe’s request for an early voting site

By: - October 26, 2020 9:33 am

The Pascua Yacqui Tribe in Tucson, Arizona, has been fighting for two years to reinstate its only early voting polling place. Photo by Paul Ingram | Tucson Sentinel

Voters living in the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in southern Arizona won’t have an early voting site reinstated, a federal judge ruled last week in a lawsuit filed by the Tribe against the Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez. 

The tribe sought to have an early voting center in operation this week within the Pascua Yaqui boundaries and an emergency voting site where voters could go vote on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, as well as a ballot drop-off site in operation between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2.

The county recorder had assigned an early voting site within the tribe’s jurisdiction in 2016, but didn’t include any for 2020.

The tribe’s lawyers argued that not having an early voting site on their reservation violated the Voting Rights Act because its members had unequal access to voting sites when compared to other communities in Pima County.

U.S. District Judge James Soto declined to order Rodriguez to add an early voting site within the Tribe. 

“While Plaintiff argues that it must have an Early Voting Site on the Reservation for the General Election in light of numerous concerns of Tribal members, there is no evidence that any Tribal member on the Reservation will be denied the ability to vote in the General Election without such a site,” Soto wrote

The Yaqui Tribe has about 22,000 members, with 7,000 of them living on the tribe’s land. One in three tribal members don’t have a vehicle.

There are 14 early voting sites in Pima County. Early voting began Oct. 7 and continues through Oct. 30. The closest early voting site is located about eight miles from the early voting location on tribal land in 2016. 

In a press release, Pascua Yaqui Tribe Chairman Peter S. Yucupicio said he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling, but believed it was an important lawsuit.  

Pascua Yaqui voters’ voices deserve to be heard whether it’s one vote or a thousand votes,” he said. 

Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in court, said voters in the Tribe still have unequal access to voting. 

“The Pima County Recorder’s decision not to reinstate an early voting site on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation has left Yaqui voters behind,” Lang said in a press release. “The court heard stories from Tribal Council representatives and Tribal members, who described the hardships they face without equal access to early voting, and it is clear that the Tribe does not have equal access to voting that their white neighbors enjoy. By deciding not to intervene, the court failed to protect a community that is simply fighting for equality.”  

Soto, the judge, wrote the Pima County Recorder’s Office is “extremely busy” and “already stretched to its breaking point” from dealing with “historic and unprecedented rates” mail-in ballot returns. The recorder has received about 200,000 completed ballots, out of the over half a million that it has mailed since Oct. 7. 

And the office is still processing voter registrations, which were due Oct. 15, the court wrote. 

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has one in-person polling location on Election Day, located at the tribe’s Wellness Center.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.