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2 tribal members join voter lawsuit against South Dakota

July 8, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Two Native American people announced Thursday they were joining a lawsuit against South Dakota alleging that state agencies failed to offer voter registration services.

The two tribal members, along with the Lakota People’s Law Project, said they were asking a federal district judge to allow them to join a lawsuit that alleges state agencies are breaking federal law by not providing ample opportunities to register to vote or update voter registration information at places like motor vehicle and public assistance offices 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 and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe initiated the legal challenge last year.

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The state has denied those allegations in court documents and asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

The tribes have argued that state practices already make it difficult for Native American people to register to vote. They alleged that they have documented instances in which people tried to register their votes at state agency offices but were turned away.

“Native voters in South Dakota have found it harder and harder to perform the simple act of registering to vote,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney M. Bordeaux in a statement. “As the number of registered voters plummets, the state has done nothing to fix this systemic problem.”

Kimberly Dillon, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, joined the lawsuit after alleging that she attempted to vote in a 2020 election but was turned away at the polls because she was not registered to vote. She said that she had tried to register to vote on two occasions at state offices.

The other person joining the lawsuit, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Hoksila White Mountain, argues in court documents that his campaign for mayor of McLaughlin, a city on the tribe’s reservation, was hurt by state voter registration practices. He alleges city officials rejected his petition to qualify for the ballot because some of the signatories were not registered to vote in the county, even though they should have been given opportunities to register to vote at state agency offices.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett declined to comment, saying it was pending litigation.