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Judge to rule Friday on Paiute voting lawsuit

A federal judge in Nevada says she intends to decide Friday whether to grant an emergency order sought by two Paiute tribes who say the state and two counties are discriminating against them ahead of the November election in violation of the U.S Voting Rights Act.

A lawyer for the Pyramid Lake and Walker River tribes said Tuesday during a daylong hearing in Reno that a temporary injunction mandating satellite polling places on the two reservations is critical to ensuring their members’ equal access to the ballot box.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said the emergency order they’re seeking is a “pretty drastic” remedy. She peppered both sides with a series of questions about their take on the legal standards that are evolving in similar cases in a number of Western states.

Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Michael Large said even that if the voter registrar in Reno is ordered to set up a satellite site at Pyramid Lake, the registrar doesn’t have the functional capability to pull it off before the election. He said it’s a “practical impossibility.”

The Justice Department is siding with the Paiute tribes.

They accuse Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, Washoe and Mineral counties of illegally denying tribe members voting access afforded to people in wealthier, mostly white neighborhoods.

The counties say the sudden change would cost too much, and the state argues it has no authority to intervene. But the Justice Department said in a new filing Monday all three appear to be confusing voting rights with “voting convenience.”

The suit filed Sept. 7 is the latest in a series of recent challenges brought by Native American tribes challenging access to the polls in mostly Western states, including Utah, Montana, Alaska and the Dakotas.

Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe living in Washoe County say they must travel 96 miles round trip to register to vote or to cast ballots in person in Sparks. Members of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in rural Mineral County say they have to go 70 miles roundtrip to Hawthorne.

The lawsuit says that’s twice as far as voters who live on Lake Tahoe’s affluent north shore would have to travel to vote if the county had not set up a satellite poll in upscale Incline Village.

The Nevada counties argue the tribal members who don’t want to drive two hours or more round trip to cast ballots in person can still vote by mail or on the internet.

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