UPDATE: Disappointingly, on January 4, 2024, the court denied the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the San Carlos Apache Tribe a chance to participate in this critical voting rights lawsuit that will heavily impact tribal citizens. The two Tribal Nations have appealed the denial of the tribal plaintiff’s motion to intervene in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Fontes.

Photo of ballot box and text: Native Voters in Arizona Fight to Keep Ballot Drop Boxes

On December 8, 2023, the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the San Carlos Apache Tribe moved to intervene in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Fontes in the Yavapai County Arizona Superior Court. The tribes are intervening to protect their on-reservation ballot drop boxes. The case, which seeks to remove voting drop boxes around the state, would disproportionately impact Native American voters in Arizona who rely on ballot drop boxes to vote.

“Native voters in Arizona have to travel immense distances to vote—much farther than non-Native voters in the state. Voting drop boxes are an effective way to help address this inequity and allow tribal members living on reservations to have access to the vote,” explained White Mountain Apache Chair Kasey Velasquez.

Some members of San Carlos travel up to 10 miles to vote, while members of White Mountain travel as much as 25 miles. In recent years, members of the Kaibab Paiute Band of Indians reported traveling five and a half hours to reach voter services located at county seats. In 2018, some Navajo voters reported having to travel 400 miles to reach an in-person polling place.

Additionally, even though the majority of Arizonans now vote by mail, for many Native Americans in Arizona, voting by mail is a burdensome and difficult process. Across reservations in Arizona, the vast majority of Native Americans do not receive mail delivery to their homes. Consequently, mail—including ballots—are not delivered to or picked up from their front door.

“Native American voters must travel incredibly long distances not just to vote, but also to access mail services. Mail is not delivered to homes in our community. Drop boxes are essential to decrease the distances tribal members must travel to deliver a ballot,” according to San Carlos Apache Chair Terry Rambler.

Decreases in distance translate to a decrease in expense, which is critically important for impoverished Native Americans. Moreover, given the racial disparity between access to residential mail delivery between Native American and white voters, as well as the markedly worse mail services Native Americans receive, removing ballot drop boxes would disproportionately impact Native American voters in Arizona.

“Plaintiffs seek to remove ballot drop boxes for all Arizonans, including Native Americans. This removal would negatively impact the ability of Native voters to exercise their right to vote. Our clients seek to intervene in this action because it will directly affect members of their Tribal Nations and they want to protect access to the democratic process for Native voters in Arizona,” explained NARF Staff Attorney Allison Neswood.

Read the Motion to Intervene.

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