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Showing posts from September, 2015

Going Postal: How All-Mail Voting Thwarts Navajo Voters

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This story first appeared on In These Times magazine's Rural America site (RAITT) in August 2015. 

All-mail-in voting has arrived in the red-rock bluffs and canyons of San Juan County, Utah, which overlaps the Navajo Nation’s reservation. In 2014, the county sent voters mail-in ballots for the general election, while closing local precincts in the shadow of Red Mesa’s ruddy flat-topped butte; in Monument Valley, the fabled location for John Ford Westerns; and in other towns and hamlets. Just one polling place remained open, in the county seat, Monticello, in the predominantly white northern portion of the county.  Also gone were 20-some election judges and translators who had provided voting help and federally mandated language assistance to non-English-speaking Navajos. One part-time official interpreter was left to cover about 8,000 square miles—an area nearly the size of Massachusetts. As states and counties around the nation increasingly offer voters convenient ways to cast a bal…

In a Rare Move, the Justice Department Drafts a Bill of Its Own—to Ensure Native Voting Rights

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This story first appeared on In These Times magazine's Rural America website (RAITT) in July 2015.
The Department of Justice has put its considerable muscle behind new draft legislation to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives have the same opportunities to vote as other Americans. On May 21, the Justice Department announced the Tribal Equal Access to Voting Act. “I am calling on Congress to help remove the significant and unnecessary barriers that for too long have confronted American Indians and Alaska Natives attempting to cast their ballots,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
With new Native-language ballots, new early-voting options, and vigorous GOTV (shown here in Togiak village), Election 2014 turnout was up throughout Native Alaska. As a result, indigenous people were credited with helping elect a Native lieutenant governor, protect the vast Bristol Bay region from mining, and increase the state's minimum wage.

It’s unusual for the Justice Department to pr…

South Dakota's Last Stand—Ballot Boxes, Red Herrings and Custer Envy

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This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in May 2015. For an article on the filing of the suit in 2014, see Oglala VP: 'Our Civil Rights Are Being Violated.'



Jackson County, South Dakota, has dug in for a fight against Oglala Sioux plaintiffs who sued for a full-service satellite voting office on the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps the county. On May 11, Jackson County filed an answer to the Oglalas’ complaint.

The document mostly reiterated legal arguments that had been rebuffed by U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier 10 days earlier, when she refused to dismiss the lawsuit, Poor Bear v. The County of Jackson. In her opinion, the judge wrote that the plaintiffs might be able to prove “intentional discrimination,” a Fourteenth Amendment violation. Judge Schreier presided over another Oglala voting-rights suit, Brooks v. Gant, which in 2012 resulted in satellite voting for another part of Pine Ridge.

(Map caption: The main Jackson …

Poor Bear Wins a Round: Oglala Voting Suit Advances

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This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in May 2015. For an August 2015 update, go here.


A federal judge has shredded claim after claim by a South Dakota county that overlaps the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation but will not guarantee tribal members on-reservation voter registration and in-person absentee voting (sometimes dubbed “early voting”). In future, Jackson County wants all residents to continue traveling to the courthouse in the county seat, Kadoka, to access the full range of voting services. Tribal members, including Oglala Sioux Nation vice president and lead plaintiff Tom Poor Bear, sued. They say the county’s stance violates the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights. The county defendants came back with a motion that the suit, Poor Bear v. The County of Jackson,be dismissed. Judge Karen Schreier turned the county down, repeatedly opining that the plaintiffs had offered sufficient grounds to move the suit forward, whil…

OST Takes Aim at Newspaper, Attorney

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This story, and a follow-up, originally appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in March and April 2015.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has approved a resolution requesting that Pine Ridge Indian Reservation businesses halt sales of the Rapid City Journal.
The action was in response to the newspaper’s January 31 front-page headline, “Did Native students stand for National Anthem?” The article elaborated on a disputed anonymous claim that Pine Ridge schoolchildren who were taunted and sprayed with beer at a Rapid City Rush hockey game had not stood for The Star-Spangled Banner.
The article and its headline caused lasting outrage. The Native American Journalists Association called the story “troubling” and “irresponsible.” Native News Online called it “blaming the victims.” At a public forum, Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker held the newspaper upside down and described it as “an example of institutional racism,” wrote David Rooks in ICTMN.
The Associated Press article on the council’s F…