Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Stacie Royster, Director of Communications and External Affairs
Beth Huffman, Director of Communications and Media Relations
WASHINGTON, D.C. AND NEW YORK – Yesterday, Jackson County, South Dakota, agreed to open a satellite office for in-person voter registration and in-person absentee voting (early voting) in Wanblee, a town on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Jackson County. The county agreed to open the office so as to avoid a Friday hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the plaintiffs in Poor Bear et al. v. Jackson County, et al., Civ. No. 14-5059 (D.S.D.), a voting rights case in federal court in which plaintiffs allege violations of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The satellite office will be located at Crazy Horse School, 245 Crazy Horse School Drive, in Wanblee. Beginning on Monday, October 20, the office will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until the day before the election.
The plaintiffs, four members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), Dechert LLP, and the Rappold Law Office. The lawsuit challenges Jackson County’s refusal to set up a satellite office for in-person voter registration and early voting on the Pine Ridge Reservation. South Dakota has “no excuse” absentee voting, so any voter may vote in-person absentee 46 days before an election. Jackson County previously only provided in-person voter registration (which ends 15 days before the election) and in-person absentee voting opportunities in the County seat of Kadoka. Although the population of Jackson County is about half Indian, Kadoka has a population that is over 90% white. It takes Indian citizens in Jackson County, on average, twice the time it takes white voters, on average, to travel to Kadoka to vote early. By reducing the average round-trip travel time for Indian voters by more than an hour, the satellite office in Wanblee essentially equalizes the average travel time for white and Indian voters to reach a location for in-person registration and early voting.
While the motion for preliminary injunction has been resolved by agreement, the case remains open, as the plaintiffs seek to have equal opportunities for in-person registration and early voting for all citizens in Jackson County in future elections.
“In-person registration and in-person absentee voting provide a benefit to voters,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee. “We welcome Jackson County’s decision to open this office to allow Indian citizens in Jackson County a fair opportunity to vote early for the November 4 elections.”
“Jackson County’s agreement to open an absentee voting office in Wanblee for the final two weeks before the November 4 election is a step in the right direction. Our goal is to secure equal voting rights in all future elections for all citizens in Jackson County, including equal access to absentee voting and registration for the full period of time allowed by South Dakota law,” said Erik Snapp of Dechert LLP.
Matthew Rappold, of Rappold Law Office, a private, public interest law firm, is serving as local counsel in the case.