Nevada tribal leaders file lawsuit claiming voting rights violations

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Local Native American tribes are alleging voting rights violations committed by two counties and the Nevada secretary of state's office.

Leaders of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Walker River Paiute Tribe filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Washoe County, Mineral County and the Nevada Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, claiming the lack of in-person voter registration and early voting creates an undue burden on residents.

"It's unequal access to the ballot box, and that's illegal and unconstitutional in the United States," said Bret Healy, a consultant working on behalf of the tribal members.

The suit claims the counties made voting less available to members of the tribes by failing to establish a site for in-person voter registration and an in-person early voting site.

"Our votes matter. Our votes count, just as much as here in Reno and the rest of the country," said Bobby Sanchez, chairman for the Walker River Paiute Tribe.

Tribal members sometimes need to to travel up to 96 miles round trip to take advantage of in-person registration and in-person early voting, according to the suit.

The suit claims Washoe County and Mineral County are in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution.

As a resolution, the tribal members are requesting county officials establish satellite offices in their Tribal capitals in Nixon and Schurz, Nev.

Tribal leaders say transportation can be a major hurdle, among other challenges. The suit says:

"Due to socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, homelessness and lack of reliable public and private transportation, and due to the history of racial discrimination and hostility towards tribal members, the significantly greater distance required for them to reach the voting sites will make it substantially more difficult, if not impossible, for them to take advantage of the convenience and benefits of in-person registration, in person early voting, and election day in-person voting relative to Anglo residents of Washoe and Mineral County."

News 4 reached out to Washoe County and Mineral County officials, as well as the Public Information Officers for the Nevada Secretary of State. As of Wednesday night, only Washoe County had responded.

Washoe County Registrar Luanne Cutler issued the following statement regarding the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s request for election services:

"Washoe County has not been served with a lawsuit by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe regarding voting rights. Therefore, the County will not comment on specific allegations."

County officials added:

"In general, the Washoe County Registrar of Voters exercises her discretion in determining the location of polling places by using factors such as cost, voting populations and other logistics. The process of securing Election Day plans and early voting sites begins in January and February of each election year. Securing the voting sites early is an integral and important part of the Registrar’s overall election plan which allows other deadlines for training, printing of election materials and deployment of voting machines to be met. With Election Day fast-approaching, the Registrar’s plan for the General Election remains in place and her decision regarding this matter is final."

Tribal leaders say before filing the suit, they reached out to the counties to get more voting services, which they claim was denied without discussion.

"it seems like we could've talked about it more, and put our input in," said Sanchez. "But, it was just a no."

See full complaint here:

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