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
Pima County and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe have settled a lawsuit filed in October when the southern Arizona tribal leaders sought to reinstate an early voting site that the county recorder removed in 2018.
Under the settlement, the Pima County Recorder’s Office County will reinstate an early voting site inside of the reservation that was removed by the previous recorder, F. Ann Rodriguez. The tribe had advocated to have the site reinstated before the 2020 election, but after Rodriguez ignored those calls, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe sued and sought an emergency judgment as early voting began ahead of the November Election. A federal judge denied the request.
The election of Gabriella Cázares-Kelly to lead the Pima County Recorder’s Office changed things.
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During a press conference on Monday, Cázares-Kelly said having an early voting site within the Pasqui Yaqui reservation is a “logical and practical need” and the community shouldn’t have had sue to access ”the most basic and fundamental rights.”
“The closure of the Pascua Yaqui early voting site was another injury unfairly inflicted onto Native American voters. It sent a misleading statement to the Native American community that their voters are not valued,” she said. “We have signed a settlement to document our commitment to the Yoeme people.”
Cázares-Kelly is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the first Native American to hold a county-wide seat in Pima County history. She said since being elected last year it was her priority to work with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to get the early voting site reinstated.
I’m honored to be able to serve our community in the way it deserves to be served. But the #JohnLewisVotingRightsAct and the #ForThePeopleAct are two bills that would provide baseline protections so that this type of cancellation couldn’t happen again, regardless of Recorder. 2/2
— Gabriella Cázares-Kelly (@GabriellaCKelly) August 14, 2021
As part of the settlement, county elections officials will also meet with tribal council leaders periodically and will provide a ballot drop-off box whenever those are available in other parts of the county, Cázares-Kelly said.
Herminia Frias, councilwoman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said that council members thought that getting an early voting site reinstated would be simple.
“It wasn’t simple,” Frias said. “It was a long, long process.”
In 2020, the closest early voting site was eight miles away from where the early voting location inside the reservation was located in 2016.
Peter S. Yacupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, explained that mobility shouldn’t be taken for granted on the reservation, where many communities are separated by dirt roads.
“If it rains today … we are not able to get out of here because it floods,” he said.
Giving voters who live, work or pass by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe a location to exercise their right is fundamental.
“We didn’t expect special treatment, just simply to vote,” Yacupicio said. “We were never included at the table, and now we are included at this table to be able to vote.”
Cazares-Kelly, Frias, and Yacupicio spoke on the history of voting rights in the Native American communities. Yacupicio said he remembers growing up people were “scared to vote.” Cázares-Kelly shared the story of her grandmother, an O’odham woman who was born without the right to vote and throughout the decades faced barriers to vote including being lawfully discriminated at the polls and not having access to a translator.
Frias explained the tribe works hard to educate its members, 6,000 of whom live within the reservation in Southern Arizona, about the importance of voting.
Because the Pima County Recorder’s Office will fully staff the drop-box location in the Pascua Yaqui reservation, voters will have an added resource to answer questions about elections, the voting system, Cázares-Kelly said.
She said the settlement agreement expires in 2024, when her first term in office ends. Cázares-Kelly urged Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which restores and strengthens the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Senate to approve the For The People Act, which would implement sweeping elections and campaign finance reforms.
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