SDPB reports that U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier has ruled against a motion to dismiss the Indian voting rights lawsuit against Jackson County. American Indian plaintiffs brought this suit last September when Jackson County refused to avail itself of Help America Vote Act money made available by the state to open a satellite early-voting station in the reservation community of Wanblee. Then-U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson weighed in in favor of the Native plaintiffs last January.
Now Judge Schreier has ruled that the lawsuit may go forward, over the objection of Indian-fighter Sara Frankenstein and the rest of Jackson County’s legal team. According to the order issued May 1, Jackson County argues that the four Oglala Sioux plaintiffs have no standing because they haven’t shown that Jackson County stopped them from registering or voting or that they had no way to get to the polls in Kadoka. However, Judge Schreier says, “Plaintiffs need not show they were unable to vote or that the challenged practices were more than an inconvenience, they only need to allege facts that, assumed to be true, show their legally protected right to equal access to the electoral process was infringed” [p. 10].
Schreier’s ruling contains many other technical discussions of standing and standards for court review, but perhaps the most important line is this quote from Reynolds v. Sims (1964):
The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.
That statement is as important to the efforts of Thomas Poor Bear and his Native neighbors to secure equality at the polls as it is to our efforts to refer and reverse Senate Bill 69, the Legislature’s effort to take away your right to nominate and vote for Independents and reduce the overall number of candidates on your ballot. As a committed small-d democrat, I cheer Judge Schreier’s logic and ruling in favor of the Wanblee plaintiffs and look forward to their victory over Jackson County’s efforts to curtail Indian voting rights.