Navajo Nation Threatens to Re-Open AZ Lawsuit Over “Cure” of Unsigned Mail Ballots

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The Navajo Nation is threatening to re-open a lawsuit against the State of Arizona if the state removes a provision allowing for “cure” of unsigned mail ballots from its state election procedures manual. Tucson.com has more:

The Navajo Nation is threatening a new lawsuit against the state over changes demanded by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to a proposed election procedures manual.

Doreen McPaul, attorney general for the tribe, says Secretary of State Katie Hobbs agreed to allow people who forgot to sign their early ballot envelopes an opportunity to “cure” the defect, coming in to sign the envelopes up to five days after an election. That would ensure that the votes are counted.

McPaul also noted, in a letter sent to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, that the deal ended a 2018 lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation against the state and several counties.

That suit charged that election practices illegally discriminated against tribal members and kept them from having their votes counted. Hobbs then put the terms of that deal into the latest version of the state elections manual.

That change has drawn an objection from the attorney general:

Brnovich is objecting, saying there is no legal authority for [Hobbs] to do that.

His protest is crucial because the revisions can take place only if he agrees. And an aide to Brnovich said he will provide his approval only if the manual removes the language about voters being able to cure their ballots after Election Day.

The Nation’s lawyers say removal of the cure provision will force them to re-open the litigation to secure rights they believe the courts have already recognized:

McPaul, in her letter, warned of legal implications.

“By excluding this language … the attorney general will be teeing up additional litigation,” creating a situation in which some counties would allow voters to “cure” their votes and some would not, she wrote.

And McPaul said that, whatever Brnovich thinks of state law, federal law mandates that voters have an opportunity to cure their ballots.

The initial lawsuit focused on language accessibility in instructions for mail ballots – which was then expanded, in conjunction with another case, to include a cure provision for all unsigned ballots:

The 2018 lawsuit said election practices by the state and Coconino, Apache and Navajo counties make it difficult, if not impossible, for reservation residents to cast early ballots.

The governments fail to provide instructions in the native language on how to fill the early ballots out and to explain that the envelopes must be signed and dated, the lawsuit said.

The problem was complicated by the fact that some counties refused to give residents time after the election to fix early ballots where the envelope was not signed or a signature did not match, according to the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, responding to a separate lawsuit, the Legislature approved a measure requiring county recorders to try to contact people if the signatures on their returned early ballots did not match signatures on file.

That law gives people up to five business days to come in and fix the problem.

But Hobbs and the counties, in settling the lawsuit, also agreed to apply the same provision in cases where early ballots turned up with no signature at all. And Hobbs inserted that language into the draft elections manual, which is supposed to be the procedure followed in all 15 counties.

Brnovich contends Hobbs, in essence, was illegally making law, and he said the provision must be stripped. Hobbs is expected to go along.

There are lots of layers to this story: a partisan difference of opinion (Hobbs is a Democrat, Brnovich a Republican), issues of deference to court settlements, questions of authority – and of course, voting rights concerns for Navajo Nation members and others statewide. This has the feel of a story that’s likely to continue well into 2020 … stay tuned!

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