Strong voter turnout and better ballot access leads to historic election results in San Juan County.

One of the ACLU’s unofficial mottos is “Vote like your rights depend on it.” 

But what if you can’t exercise that right? 

Last November’s midterm election was the first major vote in San Juan County since the ACLU of Utah reached a positive settlement with the county to provide in-person voter assistance and non-English translation services at polling places on the Navajo Nation. The settlement came after we sued the county in 2016 over its decision to switch to an exclusive vote-by-mail system and reduce in-person voting to only one location located far from many Native American communities.

Now that the spotlight has shifted from the courtroom to the ballot box, the ACLU of Utah sent two staffers to San Juan County to ensure that the settlement provisions were being followed during the midterm election. After spending several days at multiple locations in the county, the ACLU’s impressions were generally positive. Turnout was high—a thousand more people voted in 2018 than during the last midterm in 2014—while feedback from Native American residents indicated that voting was easier this time. In addition, two Native Americans were elected to the county’s three-person commission, giving the county’s majority Native American population proportionate representation in local government for the first time in history. Despite these positive signs, our team also noted several areas that needed more work, including better training for poll workers, more education about voter ID requirements, and increased ballot security.

The impressive voter turnout in San Juan County’s midterm election would not have been possible without the newly-formed Rural Utah Project (RUP). Not only did RUP register 1,600 San Juan County residents to vote prior to the election, they also increased turnout by correcting voter lists, buying radio ads to promote the election, and driving residents to the polls. This summer, RUP is partnering with Google to assign rural houses in San Juan County—which often lack a street address—a geo-located “Plus Code” address to assist with voting, mail delivery, and emergency services. More information about RUP’s work can be found at

RUP is part of a coalition of more than a dozen groups convened by the ACLU of Utah to improve voting access and education across the state. Representatives from these organizations attended the coalition’s first meeting this April and pledged to coordinate their efforts ahead of the 2020 election. Going forward, we plan to take the best practices we learned in San Juan County and leverage them to every corner of the state, so that all Utahns can “Vote like their rights depend on it.”

...from the Spring 2019 Liberty Reporter