San Juan County files Voting Rights countersuit
San Juan County has filed a countersuit in the ongoing legal battle over voting rights in the county.
The countersuit was filed on March 31, 2016 by San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson and Commissioners Rebecca Benally, Phil Lyman and Bruce Adams.
It is in response to a lawsuit, filed by the Navajo Nation and several local residents, which argues that San Juan County violated the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United State Constitution when it implemented a vote-by-mail system for the 2014 general election.
The countersuit states that the county has already made changes to the vote-by-mail system for the 2016 election, including providing election-day voting in four locations.
The changes were implemented following an October, 2015 meeting with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The countersuit also challenges the standing of the seven local residents who filed the lawsuit. All seven voted in the 2014 election.
San Juan County argues “during the 2014 election, the number of Navajo voting actually doubled compared to previous elections without the vote-by-mail option.”
Commissioner Benally, who filed the countersuit in her official capacity and in her individual capacity, argues that the lawsuit is an attempt to undermine her victory in the 2014 general election.
In the countersuit, Benally asks for attorney fees, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Since the 2010 Census, the Navajo Nation has filed three lawsuits regarding voting rights issues.
The first lawsuit alleges that the county discriminates against Native American voters because of the voting districts for San Juan County Commission.
The second lawsuit expands the original arguments to include the voting districts in the San Juan School District.
The third lawsuit addresses the vote-by-mail system, which was first implemented in the 2014 election.
U.S. Judge Robert Shelby has ruled in recent months that the county must reset voting districts for the commissioner seats and the school board.
The latest filing by the county argues that the vote-by-mail lawsuit is “false, baseless, unfounded, and otherwise outrageous.”