Court Overturns Election Procedures That Dilute American Indian Vote In Wyoming
Decision Comes In ACLU Lawsuit
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CHEYENNE, WY – A federal court in Wyoming ruled late Thursday that the at-large method of electing officials to the County Board of Commissioners in Fremont County, Wyoming discriminates against American Indian voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits the use of voting practices that dilute minority voting strength. The ruling follows a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of American Indian voters on the Wind River Reservation in Fremont County challenging the county's elections procedures.
"Every American has the right to participate equally in the political process," said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The court recognized that voting in Fremont County is unfortunately polarized along racial lines and that the county's election procedures unfairly diluted the American Indian vote."
Today's decision overturns the at-large elections of Fremont County Commissioners and requires the implementation of district elections. A final hearing as to the remedy and a timetable for its implementation is set for August 13, 2010. Under an at-large system, where all voters can vote on all seats up for election, a bloc voting majority can control the outcome of all elections. District elections, where voters choose candidates from their area, are recognized as a remedy for minority vote dilution.
"At-large elections can severely hinder minority vote participation," said McDonald. "We're relieved that a much fairer system will be implemented."
Approximately 20 percent of Fremont County residents are American Indian, yet prior to the filing of the lawsuit no American Indian had ever been elected to the five-member board of commissioners. According to the ACLU, American Indian voters in the western United States face the same kind of voting discrimination that has plagued black voters in the south for generations.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in October 2005, and in response, Fremont County asked the court not only to uphold its elections procedures but to rule that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, in 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an official notice of intervention in the case arguing that the court should uphold Section 2 and supporting the ACLU's lawsuit. In January 2007, the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming ruled that Section 2 was constitutional.
Attorneys on the case, Large v. Fremont County, include McDonald, Bryan Sells and Meredith Bell-Platts of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Andrew Baldwin and Berthenia Crocker, ACLU cooperating attorneys in Lander, Wyoming.
Today's U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming decision can be found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/large-v-fremont-county-opinion
The court's 2007 decision upholding Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/large-v-fremont-county-order-denying-motion-summary-judgment
The ACLU's complaint can be found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/large-v-fremont-county-complaint