In a lawsuit that could have nationwide implications for balot-box access for tribes across the United States, Native Americans from Montana are pushing for early voting precincts to be placed closer to the locations of three tribal reservations – the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and Fort Belknap reservations. “I live in the most isolated area of the reservation. There are no services at all. This is the smallest community of the reservation. We have to drive 21 miles just to go to post office, go to store, go to clinic, gas station, stuff like that,” Mark Wandering Medicine, 66, of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and the lead plaintiff in the suit, told IPS. He and others filed on Oct. 10, 2012, with the hope of obtaining emergency relief in time for the November 2012 election, as well as permanent relief going forward. The case recently headed back to the U.S. District Court of Montana, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit voided an earlier ruling by the district court.
On Nov. 6, 2012, the district court ruled against Wandering Medicine on the request for emergency relief, arguing that there was already sufficient evidence that Native Americans in Montana had sufficient political power to elect candidates of their choice.
Wandering Medicine appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that any relief related to the 2012 election – now in the past – was a moot point. However, in vacating without comment the lower court’s ruling, Wandering Medicine can now have a full hearing on the merits of the claims for permanent relief, which have remained pending in the lower court.
The state of Montana allows early voting state-wide for the 20 days leading up to each election; however, the early voting locations are all at the county seats, which are often far away from the reservations.
“When they organised these counties there was no Native American involvement – back then, we were probably still at war… and they put them pretty far away from actual reservations,” O.J. Semans, executive director at Four Directions, a Native American advocacy organisation, told IPS.
Full Article: Native Americans seek equal access to ‘voting precincts’.