South Dakota: Significant Barriers to Native American Voting Rights persist

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jun 30 14:03:46 UTC 2006

Report: Significant Barriers to Native American Voting Rights in South
Dakota Persist

By staff
May 18, 2006

South Dakota has been the "battleground" for Native American voting rights
for more than 30 years, according to a new report on voting rights in the
state. Since 1966, 17 of the 66 voting rights lawsuits involving Native
Americans were filed in South Dakota, a state where only 8.3 percent of
the population is Native American. A report, Voting Rights
in South Dakota, 1982-2006, suggests that such a high rate of lawsuits
stems from a poor enforcement of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act
1965 (VRA). "People disenfranchised by discrimination must be assured that
their right to vote is unalienable and protected," said former Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D. S.D., about the report's findings.

Until the 1940s, Native Americans were officially excluded from voting and
holding office. South Dakota's nine federally recognized Native American
tribes are still placed at a significant socio-economical disadvantage and
encounter barriers to voting. Moreover, as late as 1975, the state
excluded Native Americans from voting in elections in three "unorganized'
counties - Todd, Shannon and Washabaugh - because of their large Native
American population. Because the state has not fully complied with the
provisions of the VRA, Native Americans still do not enjoy fair
representation in South Dakota's government. Since the VRA was amended to
include Native Americans in 1975, only seven have served in the state

The VRA requires two counties, Shannon and Todd, to submit election
changes to the Department of Justice (DOJ) before enactment. However, out
of 600 statutes and regulations enacted between 1976 and 2002, fewer than
10 were submitted to the DOJ for review. South Dakota is also required to
provide language assistance in 19 counties. But according to Steve Emery,
VRA plaintiff and attorney for the Standing Rock tribe, "the state and
subdivisions have never produced a single document in the Lakota language
explaining the ballot or the voting process." The VRA, largely considered
the most successful civil rights legislation ever enacted, prohibits
discrimination based on race.

Three key provisions will expire in August 2007 if Congress does not act
now to renew them: Section 5, which requires preclearance of voting
changes in states and localities with a history of voting discrimination,
Section 203, which require counties where more than 5 percent of citizens
are not native English speakers to provide language assistance, and
Sections 6-9, which authorize the Department of Justice to send federal
examiners and observers to monitor elections. A bicameral bill, HR 9/S
2703, introduced on May 2, would reauthorize these provisions for another
25 years. is a collaboration of national organizations with strong
experience protecting minority voting rights, which includes such groups
as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Leadership Conference on
Civil Rights Education Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Education Fund, the NAACP and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU, and Asian American
Justice Center.

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