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ND Faces Redistricting Lawsuit Filed by Native American Tribes

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022   

Two of North Dakota's Native American tribes hope new legal action will compel the state to reconsider political boundaries approved last year. Despite some progress, their advocates say the new maps still dilute the voting rights of tribal members.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe said the maps violate the Voting Rights Act. In redistricting, lawmakers were urged to approve split House districts so tribes can elect candidates of their choice. But Michael Carter, a staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, said that in the two sets of sub-districts that were created, one leaves Turtle Mountain in a bind.

"That packs the entire reservation into a single sub-district, rather than providing the tribal members in that area the opportunity to elect two state House representatives," he said, "but instead, this new map only allows them to elect one."

The people left out of that new sub-district have claimed their voting power will be overwhelmed by the white population. At the same time, the Spirit Lake Tribe, which wanted to be part of a joint district alongside Turtle Mountain, saw its request denied. The North Dakota secretary of state, a defendant in the case, hasn't responded to a request for comment.

Republicans involved in redistricting said they wanted to avoid gerrymandering in considering certain requests. The other sub-district they approved was for the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Nicole Donaghy, executive director of North Dakota Native Vote, helped push for boundaries sought by tribes. She said the committee factored in some arguments, but the lawsuit described a dismissive tone.

"A lot of this could have been avoided had there been more open discussion and more communications between all interested parties," she said.

Her group and tribal leaders had pushed for redistricting hearings on reservations, but there were none.

While two of its board members signed on to the suit, North Dakota Native Vote isn't a plaintiff in the case, but Donaghy said the group supports the decision to challenge the state.

"We see it as the first stepping stone to make this redistricting process a bit more transparent and equitable," she said, "and also using a better process next time around."

Disclosure: North Dakota Native Vote contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Livable Wages/Working Families, Native American Issues, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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