Native American groups sue South Dakota over voting rights

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A Native American voting rights group and two tribes on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against South Dakota state agencies, alleging that the state is violating federal law by failing to offer adequate voter registration services.

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s agencies didn’t provide ample opportunities to register to vote or update voter registration information at places like motor vehicle and public assistance offices in areas near Native American reservations. Federal law requires the agencies to help people register to vote at those kinds of offices, including ones that provide public assistance or serve people with disabilities.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Four Directions, a voting rights group, brought the lawsuit against the South Dakota Secretary of State, Department of Public Safety, Department of Social Services and Department of Labor and Regulation.

The complaint in the lawsuit says that the number of voter registration applications has “precipitously declined” since 2004. Four Directions also documented instances in which Department of Social Services offices near reservations failed to help people register to vote or update their voter registration.

Jacqueline De León, a staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, which is representing the two tribes, said in a statement, “We told the state that there was a problem, but they did not fix it. Apparently they did not see the disenfranchisement of Native voters and the silencing of Native voices as an important issue. We do.”

Attorneys for the tribes and Four Directions wrote to Secretary of State Steve Barnett in May, alerting them to the problems with voter registration. Barnett’s office replied, according to the complaint. But the group alleges that Barnett’s office did not specify how or when the problems would be fixed.

The Secretary of State’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Representatives for the three other agencies named in the lawsuit said they would not be commenting because it is a legal matter.

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