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Old 07-01-2006, 10:59 PM   #1
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Exclamation Indian Vote Affected If Act Expires

Indian Vote Affected If Act Expires
By Peter Harriman
Sioux Falls Argus Leader - 1 July 2006
http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/arti...te/state02.txt

SIOUX FALLS, SD - Landmark provisions in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 could soon expire, taking away powerful deterrents to discrimination against Indian voters in South Dakota and threatening to halt an upward trend in voter turnout on reservations.

In the past 30 years, the provisions have forced South Dakota to submit 3,048 voting law changes in Todd and Shannon counties for approval and have required Lakota-speaking interpreters at polling places in 11 counties.

Provisions of the Voting Rights Act are the foundation for a change in Indian voting, resulting in a 122 percent increase in turnout in Shannon County on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and a 139 percent increase in Todd County on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, between 2000 and 2004.

They have helped American Indian candidates get elected to office, said Craig Dillon, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union and a founder of the LaCreek Civil Rights Committee.

However, they hang in the balance as Congress attempts to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act this summer.

The Voting Rights Act requires the Justice Department to approve election law changes in jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination. The ACLU used that provision in three federal lawsuits affecting South Dakota. It successfully sued to force Buffalo County to redraw commission lines so the majority of Indian voters were not packed into one district.

Preclearance cases

In the Alfred Boneshirt and Elaine Quick Bear Quiver v. (then Secretary of State) Joyce Hazeltine lawsuits, the ACLU was able to extend preclearance to Todd and Shannon counties.

The verdicts in those suits triggered Nelson to submit the thousands of changes in election rules in Shannon and Todd counties, going back to 1972, with a rationale explaining why those changes were not discriminatory.

"It's clear those counties needed to be doing the preclearance work. It's unfortunate we had to go through the legal process to get to that," Nelson said.

Because of the litigation, election officials have refrained from making changes that would harm Indian voters because they knew it would not be precleared, Jennifer Ring, executive director of ACLU of the Dakotas, said.

Lakota interpreters

"We need to continue with preclearance and with interpreters. Basically leave the Voting Rights Act intact, the way it is. If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Dillon said.

Because of the Voting Rights Act, the state this year began providing instructions in Lakota for using computerized voting machines in 11 counties near reservations.

Because of the Voting Rights Act, auditors in those counties are also responsible for ensuring that Lakota speakers are present to explain voting procedures to voters.

Although Nelson said auditors tell him the interpreters are not widely used, Dillon insisted that "in Indian Country, where I'm from, the interpreter, I think, is essential."

What would change?

Nelson agrees that interpreters play a valuable role in welcoming Indian voters into the state electoral process by honoring the Lakota culture and language. If the Voting Rights Act is not reauthorized before next year, he does not know if auditors will look to shed a complicating factor in putting on an election by doing away with interpreters.

If the provisions affecting Indian Country are allowed to expire, "It does not mean everything that has been done over the last 40 or 50 years is not there anymore," Ring said. "It means a level of protection disappears. It probably means more litigation."
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