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Lawsuit Over SD Native American Voter Registration Continues

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021   

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- In Congress, efforts are underway to boost the voting rights of Native Americans. It coincides with an ongoing lawsuit in South Dakota about voter-registration issues.

This summer, additional plaintiffs were added to the suit against the state, alleging it is not complying with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The case was originally filed on behalf of the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux Nations.

Samantha Kelty, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, likened it to a "junior Voting Rights Act" that helps people register through state social-service agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles. She contended the state is not meeting its federal obligations.

"You know, it just shows that this continues a long history of denying and suppressing Natives' right to vote in South Dakota," Kelty remarked.

The plaintiffs argued there was an 84% decline in voter registration through public service agencies between 2004 and 2016, despite a sharp increase in participation for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Kelty said many Native voters turn to these avenues for registration help. The state has denied the claims.

Separately, a bill introduced in Congress aims to address voting barriers nationwide for Native Americans.

Kelty pointed out in South Dakota, tribal members face a variety of obstacles in making their voices heard at the ballot box.

"We know that poverty and distance, 'the tyranny of distance,' we call it, for Native Americans living on reservations, socioeconomic conditions, prejudice, all of those things affect voter registration," Kelty outlined. "And a county's failure to comply with the NVRA is just one more hurdle."

She added her group's investigation found instances of people turned away when they shouldn't have been, or their paperwork wasn't submitted. Meanwhile, the federal bill, which has bipartisan support, contains language dealing with voter registration sites.


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