Some people believe that intimidation of minority voters is a concern of the past, but testimony at a public hearing Thursday revealed concerns that Native Americans still face obstacles when it comes to getting to the polls. Rapid City resident Mark Lone Hill spoke during the National Commission on Voting Rights hearing at the Journey Museum about his experience voting in the 2012 general election. “I filled out my ballot and made sure everything was checked out. So I go up to put it in the box, then this lady comes up and says: ‘Hold on, I want to make sure you’re putting that in right,'” Lone Hill said. “I know I had it in right, but she pulls it out, takes out my ballot and looks at it, then she turned it over and looked at it up and down to see who I’m voting for,” he continued. “Then she says, ‘Oh OK, I just wanted to put it in for you.'” Lone Hill said he was the only Native American at the polling station, the Bethel Assembly of God in north Rapid, at the time. This woman did not approach any other voter to check their ballots, he said. At least not until later that evening when his father went to vote at the same place.
Thursday’s public hearing was organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It is part of a series of nationwide hearings held to collect testimony on the current landscape of voting and elections in the U.S. This hearing encompassed South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
Lone Hill was one of more than a dozen witnesses who testified at the hearing, which developed a clear theme: Suppression and intimidation of Native American voters remains a serious problem in South Dakota and neighboring states.
Other witnesses told stories of how people who filed lawsuits were threatened to pay double the plaintiffs’ court costs, how tribal elections and local elections were scheduled at the exact same time in different locations and how South Dakota often blatantly ignored federal districting laws.