Tribes and Voting Rights Group Notify South Dakota of Serious Voter Registration Violations

On May 20, 2020, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Four Directions, a non-profit group that works to encourage civic participation in Indian Country, notified South Dakota officials of serious and ongoing violations of federal requirements for providing voter registration opportunities through public assistance agencies and departments of motor vehicles. The notice letter, directed to the Secretary of State as the state’s chief elections official, asks state officials to respond within 20 days to avoid the need for federal court litigation. In this matter, the Tribes are represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Four Directions is represented by Demos.

Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), state public assistance agencies and motor vehicle offices are required to provide voter registration services when people are applying for services, renewing their eligibility, and providing change-of-address information. The notice letter documents a steep drop in voter registration applications from public assistance agencies in recent years, and other clear evidence of non-compliance with the NVRA.

“When you go to a state office, such as to get your driver’s license or to apply for public assistance, you are supposed to be able to register to vote at the same time. The state is supposed to facilitate voter registration, but that is not what is happening in South Dakota. Reservation residents in particular are not being given this opportunity, and it is driving down voter participation,” said NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth.

Brenda Wright, Senior Advisor for Legal Strategies at Demos, representing Four Directions, stated: “Access to voter registration through government agencies is more important now than ever, given the difficulties of conducting traditional door-to-door registration drives. Demos has worked in many states to improve agency-based voter registration, and we hope that South Dakota officials will also work with us to ensure that South Dakotans can participate fully in the upcoming elections.”

O.J. Semans, Jr., speaking on behalf of Four Directions, stated, “My wife Barb and I are deeply concerned that Native Americans are losing the opportunity to register through South Dakota’s public assistance agencies and when getting a driver’s license. We’ve worked with the former Secretary of State, the Help America Vote Act task force and the election board in the past on developing formulas to create satellite offices on Indian Reservations. It is our hope that the state of South Dakota will once again work with us to ensure full participation in the 2020 Elections and beyond.”

The violations described in the letter include:

  • Failure to provide voter registration applications to persons during all public benefits transactions required by the NVRA
  • Failure to update applicants’ voter registration address when they report a change of address to public benefits agencies
  • Failure to provide voter registration services to persons who lack either a social security number or driver’s license

Under the NVRA, the Native American groups named in the notice letter may initiate litigation in federal court as soon as 20 days after the notice letter, if state officials do not remedy the violations during that time frame. The notice letter urges the state officials to indicate whether they are willing to engage in compliance discussions before the 20-day period expires.

Materials in Navajo Nation, et al. v. Reagan – Voting Rights Litigation

Here are the materials in Navajo Nation, et al. v. Reagan, et al. No. CV-18-08329-PCT-DWL (Ariz. D. Ct. 2019).

The Amended Complaint sought:

[D]eclaratory and injunctive relief, compelling the Defendants to (a) allow early voters who do not sign their ballot affidavit to have the same opportunity to cure the ballot deficiency that is provided to voters with a mismatched signature, (b) allow early voters who do not sign their ballot affidavit to have the same chance to cure their ballot as voters who vote by conditional provisional ballots, (c) provide translators certified as proficient in the Navajo language for all future early voting and election-day polling sites, (d) provide translation of instructions for casting an early ballot in Navajo over the radio for the 30 days leading up to an election, (e) establish additional in-person voter registration sites, and (f) establish additional early voting sites on the Reservation for all future elections that are open for consistent hours (at a minimum, each Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. with no interruption during the lunch hour) during the 30 days leading up to the election. This relief is sought on the grounds that failure to provide the requested relief is a denial of the equal right to vote.

The lawsuit was settled, and the Settlements can be seen here:

Political Lies and the Future of Voting Rights

Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear. He has prepared his story for public consumption with a careful eye to making it credible, whereas reality has the disconcerting habit of confronting us with the unexpected, for which we were not prepared.

Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic

Be prepared for a massive purge of American voters, mostly Democratic Party-leaning, mostly minorities, from the rolls of register voters. The plan seems to be to claim that the President actually won the popular vote (a falsehood, by millions of votes), then to claim that millions of people voted for the Democratic Party candidate illegally (also a falsehood), then to audit voters in targeted locations (Mike Pence promised to do it), declare the audit actually did uncover millions of illegal voters (whether or not it’s true, and it’s not), and then purge them. It’ll have to be done in less than two years before the midterm election where, all things being equal, the Republican Party is headed for disaster.

Two entities in power can stop this — the Republican Party and the Roberts Court — but those are entities that are not going to do anything to assist the Democratic Party or minority voting rights. Rs believe almost religiously that illegal immigrants vote in large numbers, for example, all but foreclosing a Party response on that front. And the Roberts Court’s record on minority voting rights is just bad, possibly because the Chief Justice is not a fan of the voting rights act.

One can watch, or one can act.

Montana School District to Redraw District Lines after Losing Voting Rights Act Case to Native Voters

Here are the materials in Jackson v. Wolf Point School District (D. Mont.) (from the ALCU site):

Final Order
Judge Strong’s Recommendations
Consent Decree
Complaint

Press Release

From the ACLU site:

In January 2014, Wolf Point School District officials conceded voting districts challenged in August 2013 violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. A settlement with the district calls for electing one board member from each of five voting districts to serve on the high school and elementary school boards and one member elected at-large district-wide to serve only on the high school board. Each of the new single-member districts will have populations that vary no more than 1.54 percent. This is a significant change from the existing system in which members of the majority white voting district have been electing one board member for every 143 residents and those in the majority Native American district have been electing one board member for every 841 residents. The settlement will be implemented over two years. The ACLU of Montana and the ACLU National Voting Rights Project sued the Wolf Point High School District in U.S. District Court in 2013 on behalf of seven Native American voters whose right to equal representation was being violated by these malapportioned school district voting districts that give some voters greater representation on the school board. The old districts violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act because they deprived Native Americans of the equal right to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

News coverage here.

The Hill: Indian Voting Rights Case Could Decide Control of Senate in 2015

Here.

An excerpt:

Carole Goldberg, a professor and vice chancellor at UCLA’s School of Law who has dealt extensively with Native American legal rights, said discrimination is widespread in many states with Native populations.

“There are persistent patterns where states have criminal jurisdiction on reservations and the counties that exercise this jurisdiction locate their facilities and services in a place convenient for the non-Native population and not the Native populations,” said Goldberg, who has donated to multiple Democratic candidates.

Merits Briefs (so far) in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.

From the ABA:

Tribal Materials in Arizona Voter ID/Citizenship Case

Yesterday, a deeply divided panel of the Ninth Circuit (which included Justice O’Connor in the majority, and Chief Judge Kozinski the dissenter) struck down the Arizona statute requiring persons to provide documentary evidence of citizenship before registering to vote. Here is the opinion in Gonzalez v. State of Arizona.

And here are the tribal materials only (there were many, many briefs):

Inter Tribal Council Opening Brief

Inter Tribal Council Reply Brief