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Two Northern Nevada Paiute tribes partially won a federal voting rights lawsuit earlier this month in Reno.
The victory means Pyramid Lake and Walker River tribal members will have better access to the polls, with voting sites on their reservations. Federal judge Miranda Du did not grant in-person voter registration to the tribes because all plaintiffs were already registered to vote.
Seth Richardson is a political reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the judge agreed with the tribes that polling sites were too far from the reservations — up to 90 miles round-trip in some cases — making it an undue burden on the people living there.
Judge Du also said mail-in ballots weren't sufficient enough to offer equal access to the ballot.
After that ruling, nine other Nevada tribes asked for early voting sites, but those were denied by Nevada's Secretary of State on the grounds that it was too close to the election.
Tom Rodgers is a voting rights advocate and the principal at Carlyle Consulting. He said many people who live on reservations live in remote areas and in poverty, without access to reliable transportation.
"When you have extreme poverty, which a lot of the tribes in Nevada and nationwide experience, and then also the extreme distance, that by definition is unequal access," Rodgers said.
The ruling could cost taxpayers $117,000, the amount of the plaintiffs' legal costs. The projected cost for the counties to comply was under $10,000.
Rodgers said the new polling places will give 1,600 to 2,000 Native Americans accessible polling places, and Richardson said rural residents who are not Native American will also benefit.
Seth Richardson, politics reporter, Reno Gazette-Journal; Tom Rodgers, voting rights advocate, Carlyle Group