Fewer than 20 of nearly 450 Navajo Indians suspected by San Juan County officials of registering to vote more than once face a challenge to their voting rights before the Nov. 6 election day, according to the Utah attorney general's office.
"We really don't care that much if there are duplicate registrations," said John Clark, counsel to Attorney General Paul Van Dam. "We decided to focus our efforts to make sure people vote only once."About 1,000 Navajos living on and off the reservation in southeastern Utah registered to vote during a massive drive earlier this year, but questions about duplicates kept nearly 450 of them off the county electoral rolls.
State officials from the offices of both the attorney general and the lieutenant governor conferred Wednesday by telephone with San Juan County officials and in person with attorneys representing the Navajo voters.
They agreed that all of the names that are allegedly duplicates should be added to the electoral rolls. Only those apparently registered in more than one district will be challenged.
State law allows for the names of any voters to be challenged prior to an election by a qualified elector. Before voters who have been challenged can cast their ballots, they must take an oath that they meet the qualifications.
But voters also can be challenged at the polls, and more than a dozen attorneys and other experts in election law will travel to San Juan County on Election Day to help settle disputes.
The attorney general's office had planned to send two attorneys to San Juan County for the election. But now a total of 10 attorneys and election experts will go from the offices of both the attorney general and the lieutenant governor.
Clark and Deputy Lt. Gov. Dave Hansen are also scheduled to go to San Juan County next week and spend several days making sure officials there have complied with the agreement and added the names to the electoral rolls.
During the election, the Utah Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a group affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, will have at least nine attorneys stationed at voting precincts throughout the county.
John Pace, one of the attorneys representing the Navajos who have been left off the electoral rolls, said he and the other lawyers will take statements from anyone unable to vote.
"Our concern is that anyone who registered in good faith will be allowed to vote," Pace said, adding that they will be accompanied by translators familiar with the area.
The U.S. Department of Justice has monitored at least two elections in San Juan County since a complaint about the treatment of Navajo voters was filed with the federal government in 1983.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to say whether federal observers will be on hand for the election. The Justice Department recently amended a federal court order that details what the county must do to ensure Indians have access to the election process.