ACLU Victorious in Securing Voting Rights For Native Americans in Montana

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
May 18, 2000 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MISSOULA, MT — Acting to ensure the voting rights of Native Americans on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, a federal judge has ordered local officials to create new boundaries for the 2000 Rosebud County Commissioner elections, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

The state ACLU, which along with the ACLU’s Southern Regional Office Voting Rights Project brought the case in 1999 on behalf of 11 individuals, said the ruling ensures that Native Americans will have an opportunity for meaningful participation in local representative government.

“The court’s ruling is a step forward for a meaningful democracy for all citizens in Rosebud County,” said Scott Crichton, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana.

The case was filed last July on behalf of Charlene Alden and others as plaintiffs against the Board of County Commissioners of Rosebud County, asking the court to create single-member districts that would give Indians the same opportunity non-Indians now have to elect candidates of their choice.

The Commissioners agreed earlier to enter into a settlement agreement which conceded that redistricting is appropriate and that they should adopt a single-member districting plan (compared to an at-large redistricting plan) for Rosebud County.

Judge Donald W. Molloy’s decision rejected arguments by the County Commissioners that they should be able to delay implementation of new districts until after the reapportionment that will come from the data gathered in the 2000 census, saying that violations the Voting Rights Act must receive “a full and complete remedy.”

The Judge’s order cancels a primary vote and provides for a special general election for the County Commissioner race. Both of the major political parties are to pick a candidate for the November election, and independent candidates are allowed to file up to 75 days before the election.

In a companion ACLU case filed at the same time last year against the Lake County School District, new boundaries were arrived at for school board elections through a separate settlement agreement. Earlier this month, two Native Americans were elected to the school board in Ronan.

According to an analysis conducted by state and ACLU experts in a previous voting rights case in Montana, state election returns showed that in contests with Indian and non-Indian candidates, Indian candidates usually get a majority of the Indian votes, while non-Indian candidates usually get a majority of non-Indian votes.

The ACLU’s previous news release on the case is online at http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n070799b.html.

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