States should offer and expand early voting options, especially during a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing voters into some difficult choices. By spreading out in-person voting across many days – rather than a single day – we can space out voters and alleviate long lines and crowded polling locations.
Like other Native communities in Arizona and across the country, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe has been hit hard by COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of more than 11 members in the Tucson area alone. More than a quarter of tribal residents are medically uninsured.
Members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona, located outside Tucson, lack access to safe early voting options. This effects between 3,600 and 4,000 people living on the reservation, 93% of whom are Native American.
The Tribe’s voters must now travel more than two hours roundtrip by public bus just to vote at the nearest early voting site. Riding the bus to vote during a viral pandemic is not an option for many voters on the reservation, who face a disproportionately higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
This creates enormous challenges, compounded by overlapping systemic inequities. The Tribe lives in an area of the county with a high poverty rate and less access to cars. The median income on the reservation is half that of Pima County, and the unemployment rate is 26%.
From 2010 to 2018, the Tribe had an early voting site on the Pascua Yaqui reservation. But one month before the August 2018 primary, the county recorder abruptly relocated the site to a different location in Tucson off the reservation.
The Tribal Council requested the early voting site be reinstated as early as November 2019 but has been met with resistance. Due to the county recorder’s office refusal to reinstate the site, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing the Tribe in its efforts to advocate for a safe early voting site before this fall’s election.
On Sept. 25, 2020, CLC sent a letter to the Pima County Recorder on behalf of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe asking to reinstate an early voting center on the tribal reservation and a ballot drop-off site.
The letter warns that the Voting Right Act prohibits all forms of voting discrimination that lessen opportunities for minority voters, and that failure to add the early voting site would risk violating federal law.
CLC has advocated on behalf of Native American voters in the past. Earlier this year, CLC won a settlement over a contentious voter ID fight for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota, which made voting more accessible to over 7,000 residents of voting age collectively.