Appeals Court Sides With Native American Voters in South Dakota

May 5, 2006 12:00 am

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PIERRE, SD — The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded an appeals court decision in favor of Native Americans who say that the city of Martin violated the Voting Rights Act by drawing districts that dilute the voting strength of Native Americans.

“This decision underscores the continuing problems faced by Native American voters as well as the need to extend the protections of the expiring provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which are now being considered by Congress,” said Bryan Sells, a staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project and lead counsel in this case.

The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of two Native American voters who say the redistricting plan adopted by the city in 2002 has the purpose and effect of diluting Native American voting strength. Native Americans constitute approximately 45 percent of the city’s population but have been unable to elect any candidates of their choice to the city council because the redistricting plan ensures that white voters can control all three city council wards.

The ACLU offered three alternative redistricting plans that experts agreed would give Native Americans an opportunity equal to that of white voters to elect their preferred candidates. The district court agreed that two of the plans were workable remedies that would alleviate the inequities of the present system, but nonetheless, it decided against ordering the city to adopt a new plan.

The appeals court disagreed with the lower court ruling, and said that “the plaintiffs proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the white majority votes as a bloc to usually defeat Indian-preferred candidates.”

Today’s decision sends the case back to the district court to make a final determination in the case consistent with the appellate court’s findings. The district court will then have the opportunity to develop a more equitable districting plan.

“The Native American community in Martin, and especially the LaCreek District Civil Rights Committee, have worked so hard, for so long, to change their community into a good place to live and raise their children and grandchildren,” said Jennifer Ring, Executive Director of the ACLU of the Dakotas. “I am pleased that the Eighth Circuit recognized their right to finally have a say in how their town is run. Nothing beats an actual seat at the table.”

Earlier this year, the ACLU issued an 867 page report documenting 293 cases brought by the ACLU in 31 states to protect the right to vote and challenge discrimination in voting. The ACLU has urged Congress to renew the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that have been so effective in thwarting voting discrimination: These provisions are set to expire in 2007.

Click here to see a copy of today’s decision.

For more information on the ACLU’s efforts to renew the Voting Rights Act, go to

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