South Dakota Violated Native Voting Rights
CONTACT: Paul Silva, ACLU Nat'l(212) 549-2689 or 2666PIERRE, SD-
In an historic victory for voting rights, a federal court on September 15th, 04 ruled that South Dakota violated the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act when it approved a statewide redistricting plan that dilutes the voting power of Native Americans.
"This is a landmark victory for the voting rights ofNative Americans," said Bryan Sells, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's VotingRights Project, which had challenged the plan."Redistricting has historically been used to disenfranchise minority voters. Today's decision will help rectify this longstanding problem."The ACLU filed the case on behalf of four NativeAmerican voters in December 2001 after the state legislature drew a new legislative district map that packs Native Americans into a single district. As a result, District 27, which encompasses the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations, has an almost 90 percent "supermajority" of Native Americans.
The ACLU argued that packing the two reservations into one district disenfranchises Indian voters under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits abridging the right to vote on account of race or ethnicity. The ruling in favor of Native American voters in South Dakota comes at a time when the country is closely monitoring the state's current high-profile race between Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his Republican challenger, John Thune.
According to political observers, Native American voters have been aggressively courted by both political parties and, in part as a result of successful court battles led by the ACLU. They are increasingly regarded as a growing and important electoral constituency. In today's ruling, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier wrote that the "current legislative plan impermissibly dilutes the Indian vote" and denies Indians inDistricts 26 and 27 "an equal opportunity to accessthe political process."
The court gave the state legislature 45 days to submit proposals to rectify the disenfranchisement of Native American voters in SouthDakota.The ACLU said that although today's decision may not directly impact the November election, it could help strengthen voter confidence among South Dakota's Indian population and drive increased turnout at thepolls...
For more information on the ACLU's Voting RightsProject go to http://www.aclu.org/VotingRights/VotingRightsMain.cfm.
Alyssa BurhansOrganizing Director:
Native American Voters
2105 1st Avenue SouthMinneapolis, MN 55404
Direct Line: (612) 879-7510
Cell: (612) 860-3300
Fax: (612) 870-4846
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