Courtesy Bobby Sanchez
Bobby Sanchez, chairman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, was lead plaintiff in a recent successful federal voting-rights lawsuit.

Victory Lap for Paiutes and the Native Vote

Stephanie Woodard

An emergency injunction will open early-voting offices on the Walker River and Pyramid Lake Paiute reservations. Plaintiffs, including tribal chairmen Bobby Sanchez and Vinton Hawley, respectively, told the federal court that tribal members travel inordinate distances to register and vote, curtailing their access to the ballot box, while off-reservation communities have numerous nearby options.

A Department of Justice “Statement of Interest” backed these claims, saying they relied on “well-established precedent.”

“Everyone is very excited and happy,” said lead plaintiff Sanchez about reaction on Walker River, adding that arrangements for the early-voting offices were still under discussion. The emergency order did not increase registration access, as all of the plaintiffs were already registered voters.

Defendants included county officials who administer federal elections on the two reservations and Barbara Cegavske, Nevada’s secretary of state. Starting when the requests were made in August, they had named inconvenience and budget as reasons not to open the reservation offices.

Cegavske’s failed motion to dismiss the lawsuit went a step further and cited a psychological barrier: this year’s “hotly contested” election had “put voters and candidates on edge,” straining resources even more, she told the court. Defendants suggested considering better access in “future elections.”

“Our request imposed no major burdens, and we have people ready to help with whatever is necessary,” said Sanchez. “If the election officials walked a mile in our moccasins, they’d see what we want—equality. And if they really were in our shoes, they would have made the same request.”

Cegavske’s office said she would not appeal but would help the counties comply with the order as part of her commitment to voting rights. This is the latest of several recent Native-vote gains in North and South Dakota, Alaska, Montana and Utah.

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