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Yaqui sue Pima Recorder over early voting site on reservation

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe filed a federal lawsuit Monday to push Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez to open an early voting site on the reservation just outside Tucson.

While discussions between the tribe and Rodriguez have continued in recent days, attorneys for the tribe said they filed the suit because they have not received confirmation from the county election official whether a site will be opened for the last week before the November 3 general election.

Early voting in Arizona began last week, with three sites open across Tucson. Another 11 sites are due to open soon, on October 19 and 26.

But Rodriguez has refused to set up a site on the small reservation — with a population of about 4,000 — on Tucson's southwestern edge, citing low turnout in earlier elections.

Document: Pascua Yaqui lawsuit over reservation early voting

Tribal leaders said that an early voting site should be open in the location that will be used as a polling place on Election Day, and noted that there was a large increase in early voting in a tribal election earlier this summer — likely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Pascua Yaqui vote matters – our voices need to be heard," said Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the tribe.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in favor of setting up an early voting site, and the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has offered to pay for the operation. But Rodriguez, an elected Democrat who's leaving office after nearly three decades following this election, has the final say on the issue — unless a federal judge steps in.

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Rodriguez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rodriguez has said that just 44 voters used the in-person early voting site in 2016, and cited security concerns about the location.

Attorneys for the Pascua Yaqui said that in this June's tribal council election, 454 members participated in early voting on the reservation.

The Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-D.C. voting rights organization representing the tribe, sent Rodriguez a letter last month, urging her to reinstate the early voting site and informing the recorder that a lawsuit would be filed if she did not.

For her part, Rodriguez released a public statement last month that detailed her concerns about changing election practices so late in the process.

“[This] shows, at best, a really dismissive attitude toward the tribe and its members and their constitutional right to participate in this election,” Jonathan Diaz, a lawyer for the tribe, told the Center for Public Integrity and Stateline. “It strikes me as characterizing the tribe and its members as not having the drive or the will to go the extra mile to be able to vote when they shouldn’t have to.”

"Local governments should do their best to offer and expand a menu of convenient early voting options, especially during a year in which COVID-19 safety protocols have increased the need to space out voters," Diaz said Monday. "Instead, the county recorder’s office has exhibited a disappointingly dismissive attitude about whether this historically disenfranchised community will have equal access to the ballot. It’s not right for these voters to be forced to travel more than two hours roundtrip to vote at the nearest early voting site—especially during a global health crisis."

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