The Jackson County Commission has finally surrendered to demands for voting equality and agreed to establish a satellite early voting station in Wanblee for the next four primary and general elections. Problem solved, right? No need for Thomas Poor Bear and his Lakota neighbors to continue their lawsuit against Jackson County, right?
Not so fast, said plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Rappold, of Rapid City. “Defendants’ belated and partial attempt to correct their discriminatory conduct will not allow them to avoid examination in open court and oversight by a federal judge and monitor.”
The county’s attempt is “partial” because Poor Bearasks the court for a permanent federal-elections satellite office, not a temporary one. The plaintiffs also want Jackson County, where Natives couldn’t vote until the 1970s or hold office until the 1980s, to be subject to Justice Department oversight, including federal election monitors and pre-clearance of new voting laws and procedures. Further, plaintiffs want protections for all elections, local and federal.
Pre-eminent civil rights attorney Laughlin McDonald, who is director emeritus of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and author of American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights,called the motion to dismiss “another effort to shortchange American Indian voters” [Stephanie Woodard, “End-Run on Native Rights—Will It Work?” Indian Country Media, 2015.11.23].
O.J. Semans, director of voting rights advocacy organization Four Directions, reminds Woodard that Indian voters still need the protection sought by the Poor Bear lawsuit to prevent a repeat of the voter suppression efforts carried out by Shannon County Sheriff Jim Daggett at the Pine Ridge satellite early voting station in 2014. Four Directions spokesman Bret Healy says one of the key protections Poor Bear seeks is preclearance:
In addition to demanding an early vote center in Wanblee, the plaintiffs also requested a federal judge to find that Jackson County had violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They asked the judge to force the county into what’s known as section 3 preclearance.
A judge can force a government body into section 3 preclearance if it finds that a jurisdiction discriminated against minorities. Preclearance would require Justice Department approval of changes to a county’s voting plan, precinct place locations and other issues related to elections.
Charles Mix County is currently subject to section 3 preclearance [Jonathan Ellis, “County Settles, But Court Case Not Over,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.].
A Klansman doesn’t get out of assault charges by apologizing and promising not to beat up black folks for eight years. Jackson County has still violated basic rights, and Indian voters need full restoration and protection of those rights.