Nevada tribes charge Washoe, Mineral officials with voting rights violations

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) Whatever other issues this dispute raises--race, class, partisan advantage--first of all it's a matter of distance.

To register to vote in person requires a 96-mile round trip from Nixon on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation to Reno, and a 70-mile round trip from the Walker River Tribal community of Schurz to Hawthorne. The same long trip to vote early.

Walker Lake Paiute Chairman Bobby Sanchez says, "For our elders and those who don't have vehicles, it's a real burden on them to have to make that trip."

Urged on by the non-profit organization Four Directions, both tribes asked for some days of on-site registration and an early-voting site.

Now that a lawsuit is in the works, no one at the counties are commenting, but in the case of Mineral County Clerk Chris Nepper, at least, there seemed to be an openness to discuss the possibility. Emails were exchanged about a possible meeting. Then Nepper replied that he'd been told not to respond by the Secretary of State. It was, he indicated, a state issue.

Actually that's not true. A spokesman for the Secretary of State says decisions like early voting locations is strictly a county matter.

Bret Healy with Four Directions says, "They're trying to suggest that Chris wasn't telling the truth to me. Actually I think Chris was telling the truth. He had no reason to tell me anything but straight up."

In any case, the counties haven't moved and now there's a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the 14th amendment, the Nevada constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

Healy and the tribes say what they're asking for is simply equality under the law.

Vinton Hawley, Pyramid Lake tribal chairman, says, "In a community of wealthy residents they also have early voting sites and we have absolutely nothing on the reservation."

Healy says, "You can't just say 'Well, we'd have to work a little harder to do it. That's not a defense in a voting rights case and it starts leading one to believe that it's really about they just don't want to provide services to Native Americans."