Monday, January 12, 2015

Native Voting Plaintiffs Got It Right, Says DOJ

The U.S. Department of Justice has submitted a Statement of Interest in the federal voting-rights lawsuit, Poor Bear v. Jackson County (South Dakota). The agency supports the Oglala plaintiffs’ allegation that restricting voter registration and in-person absentee voting (often called “early voting”) to an off-reservation county seat makes it difficult for them to vote and is discriminatory. The statement also cites the need to ensure that the Voting Rights Act “is properly interpreted and…vigorously and uniformly enforced.”

“Many of us lack the vehicles and gas money to get to the county seat in Kadoka,” explained lead plaintiff, Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear. He and other plaintiffs live in the town of Wanblee, in the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps Jackson County. They want a Wanblee satellite voting office offering the same election services that the primarily white population of the county receives in Kadoka. They also want the county to come under special Justice Department scrutiny via the VRA’s Section 3.

U.S. Attorney Brendon Johnson described the state’s poor record on Native enfranchisement as long-term and said, “We should be doing more, not less, to protect the right of every South Dakotan to vote.”



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