The U.S. Department of Justice has intervened in a lawsuit accusing a South Dakota county of disenfranchising Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, arguing the case should move forward because the issues in question fall under the still-enforced sections of the Voting Rights Act. In the months leading up the November election, Native Voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit against Jackson County, South Dakota accusing it of requiring Native Americans to travel often prohibitively long distances to vote instead of opening a satellite office on the reservation. In response to the litigation, Jackson County opened a satellite center for voter registration and early voting in the town of Wanblee on the reservation, but the legal action continued in order to ensure the voting rights would be maintained for future elections. County officials filed a motion to dismiss the litigation after the November midterm, arguing that Native Americans still have three ways to vote absentee including traveling to the county auditor’s office which is more than 27 miles away from Wanblee. But when the DOJintervened, it said the issues presented in the lawsuit should be considered as violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which designates Native Americans as a protected class.
“It shows the Native Americans that the Department of Justice is actually coming to light to the plight of equality of the Native American vote,” OJ Semans, director of the Native voting rights group Four Directions, told ThinkProgress about the government’s decision to become involved in the lawsuit.
The suit against Jackson County is unique because it is the first in which Native Americans are asking for the DOJ to reestablish preclearance under the Voting Rights Act since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated that requirement in the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision.