The plaintiffs in the Poor Bear v. Jackson County lawsuit concerning equal voting rights for Indians said they wouldn’t back down. Now they have filed their formal response to the county’s effort to dismiss the case. Recall that Jackson County inked a deal with the Secretary of State last month to provide a satellite early-voting station for the mostly Lakota residents of Wanblee in the next four election cycles. The plaintiffs say that agreement does nothing to make up for Jackson County’s previous violations of Indian voting rights, provides no guarantee of those rights in future elections, and is really just a trick to keep the court from dropping the hammer on them:
…Defendants violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by limiting in-person absentee voting to a single location, located disproportionately farther from Indian populations than from white populations. Having engaged in limited affirmative discovery, having produced not a single expert report in response to those of Plaintiffs, and having refused to participate in a court- ordered settlement conference, Defendants seek to escape the jurisdiction of this Court, alleging that an eleventh hour resolution to place a satellite office for in-person registration and in-person absentee voting on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a limited number of federal elections somehow renders this case non-justiciable. Simply put, Defendants’ actions are too little, too late.
Whether viewed as an issue of mootness or of ripeness, Defendants’ opening of a satellite office—for a limited time and for federal elections only—does not affect the justiciability of this case one whit, because:
- Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment on liability for the established violation of the Voting Rights Act by Defendants;
- Plaintiffs are entitled to remedies, including federal monitoring and pre- clearance of future changes in election procedures, for the established violation of the Voting Rights Act by Defendants;
- Defendants’ purported plan is limited, voluntary, and unguaranteed, and does not address Defendants’ continuing failure to provide equal access to in-person registration and in-person absentee voting for Plaintiffs in non-federal elections; and
- Defendants’ plan is for a limited time and not binding on future County Commissions [Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants’ Second Motion to Dismiss, Poor Bear et al. v. Jackson County et al., Case No. 5:14-cv-05059-KES,filed 2015.12.21].
Indeed, the memorandum of understanding between the Secretary of State and Jackson County says nothing about school board elections, which happen separate from the June primary, special elections, or any odd-year elections. It makes establishment of the satellite early-voting stations contingent on the availability of Help America Vote Act funds, which seems odd, given that the Voting Rights Act doesn’t say, “Give Indians equal voting rights if you have the money, but if you’re short on cash, go ahead and discriminate.” I’m pretty sure the Voting Rights Act stops at, “Give Indians equal voting rights.”
The big remedy the plaintiffs seek is pre-clearance, meaning Jackson County would have to submit any changes to its policy on conducting elections to the federal Justice Department for approval. Given Jackson County’s past conduct, the discriminatory nature of which the county has never refuted, pre-clearance seems to be a reasonable requirement to ensure that Jackson County amends its ways and affords its Lakota residents equal access to the polls.
Update 12:48 CST—Related Reading: But watch out, gentle readers: criticize Jackson County for stepping on equal minority voting rights, and Ted Cruz will say you’re just some liberal do-gooder trying to boss country folk around:
Q: Hillary Clinton has criticized Alabama’s closure of more than 30 drivers license offices. She’s called it ‘a blast from the Jim Crow past’ and a violation of civil rights. What’s your reaction to the issue?
Cruz: “It’s not surprising to see a Democrat like Hillary Clinton coming in and attacking states, particularly Southern states. Frankly, it’s a bigotry from the Democrats. They look down on the southern states like we’re a bunch of hicks. Look, I’m from Texas and Hillary Clinton is not a big fan of my state either. We don’t need more politicians from Washington looking down on us like a fly-over company. We’ve had 7 years of a President who looks down on the American people. Hillary Clinton thinks we’re just a bunch ignorant rubes and we need to be governed by what she deems as moral and philosophical betters. I think that’s complete nonsense. I believe in the American people. I believe in the common sense values [Ted Cruz, interview with Emily DeVoe, WKRG-TV, Mobile, Alabama, 2015.12.21].
Sure, Ted. But when American people don’t apply common sense to voting rights, they do need to be governed by better oversight, law, and the Constitution.