Don't Let Government Intimidation Keep You From the Polls, ACLU Tells Native American Voters in South Dakota

October 30, 2002 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of South Dakota
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Joint Statement of Laughlin McDonald and Bryan Sells,

ACLU Voting Rights Project, and

Jennifer Ring, Executive Director, ACLU of the Dakotas


ATLANTA–The Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of the Dakotas is urging all eligible Native Americans to vote on November 5 despite attempts by South Dakota officials to intimidate them.

The ACLU is disturbed by reports that South Dakota’s Attorney General, Mark Barnett, in conjunction with the FBI, has announced plans to send state and federal agents to question almost 2,000 new Native American voters, many of whom are participating in the political process for the first time. This amounts to voter intimidation and it is wrong.

County auditors are cooperating in the investigation and subjecting Native American registrations to a special level of scrutiny. No similar effort is being made to investigate new registrations in other counties within the state that have few Native American residents, even though these counties contain the overwhelming majority of all new registrations in the state.

Democrats have charged that Republicans simply want to suppress Native American, and thus Democratic, voter turnout in the November 2002 election for U.S. Senate. The ACLU is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse political candidates, but seeks only to ensure that every individual’s right to vote is protected.

Officials claim that they are scrutinizing Native American voters due to allegations of voter fraud in South Dakota counties with significant Native American populations. But a contract worker in Rapid City is the only person who has been charged with falsifying voter registration cards. This person was allegedly trying to get paid for registration work that he was not actually doing. If this allegation is true, it would constitute employee fraud, not voter fraud.

There is no allegation or evidence of widespread fraud committed by the state’s voters, yet it appears that only Native American voters are being investigated and subjected to what amounts to a dual standard of justice. No voter, Native American or White, has been accused of committing voter fraud and no registered voter should be discouraged from voting on November 5.

Regardless of the purposes underlying the ongoing investigation, there is little doubt that it will have a negative impact on Native American voter turnout. Webster Two Hawk, the state commissioner of tribal-government relations, is urging Native Americans to put the controversy aside and exercise their right to vote. In recent statements, Commissioner Two Hawk has underscored the importance of the Native American vote being a decisive factor in South Dakota’s Senate race.

No one excuses voter fraud, but no one should excuse questionable “ballot security” initiatives either. There is a long history of parties in power using these initiatives to unfairly target minority voters, to seek to remove them from the voter rolls, and to have the effect of intimidating them from voting. With all the progress Native Americans have made toward empowering themselves in the Dakotas, this baseless investigation threatens to again alienate them from the political process.

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