An organization that lobbies for Indian voting rights is denouncing a decision by a lawyer for Fall River and Shannon counties to seek court costs against 25 Oglala Sioux Tribe members. The 25 plaintiffs sued the counties and the state last year, arguing they didn’t have equal opportunity to vote because Shannon County lacked early voting and voter registration satellite office, unlike other counties. Instead, residents in the mostly Native American county had an abbreviated satellite office or they had to drive to Fall River County, which administers elections for Shannon County. Many Native Americans don’t have a car. But a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this month after the state agreed to provide money for early voting satellite offices in both Shannon and Todd counties through 2018 for the full 46 days prescribed by state law. In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Karen Schreier said that because of the agreement, the plaintiffs did not face imminent harm.
On the face of it, the lawsuit forced the state and counties to provide equal access to early voting, at least through the 2018 general election. But because it was dismissed, the counties and state declared themselves the prevailing parties. Under federal rules, a prevailing party can be awarded costs associated with some aspects of the litigation.
Earlier this week, Sara Frankenstein, a Rapid City lawyer representing the counties, filed for costs, amounting to more than $6,000. The Indian voting rights group Four Directions, which paid for the lawsuit, replied with a letter from Executive Director O.J. Semans that went to many of the state’s top elected officials, asking them to denounce the effort to collect costs against 25 impoverished Indians.