Showing posts from September, 2015

Going Postal: How All-Mail Voting Thwarts Navajo Voters

This story first appeared on Rural America  In These Times  in August 2015.  A ll-mail-in voting has arrived in the red-rock bluffs and canyons of San Juan County, Utah, which overlaps a portion of 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 ballot

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

This  story  first appeared on Rural America In These Times in July 2015. T he 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 GOTV  (here in Togiak village) , Election 2014 turnout was up throughout Native Alaska. Indigenous people were credited with helping elect a Native lieutenant governor, protect the Bristol Bay from mining, and increase the state’s minimum wage. It’s unusual for the Justice Department to propose legislation, says spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle,

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

This article appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in May 2015.  J ackson 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,  Poor Bear v. The County of Jackson, and requested that it be dismissed . The county document mostly reiterated legal arguments that U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier had already rebuffed. As a consequence, Judge Schreier refused to dismiss Poor Bear. In her opinion, she noted that the plaintiffs might be able to prove “intentional discrimination,” a 14th-Amendment violation. Judge Schreier also presided over the 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 County elections office is in mostly white county seat Kadoka

Poor Bear Wins a Round: Oglala Voting Suit Advances

This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in May 2015.  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 (shown below) 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, while the c

OST Takes Aim at Newspaper, Attorney

This article and a followup first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in March and April 2015. T he 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  articl