This lawsuit, brought on behalf of four enrolled members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, alleges that Jackson County, South Dakota’s refusal to open a satellite office for in-person absentee voting and registration on the Pine Ridge Reservation violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Jackson County has a population that is about half white and half Indian and makes 46 days of in-person absentee voting available in Kadoka, a town that is over 90% white. In-person voter registration is also available in Kadoka until 15 days before Election Day, and the overlap between these two periods creates a window of time where one-stop voting–where a citizen can register and vote in one fell swoop–is available in Kadoka. Because South Dakota has “no excuse” absentee voting, any Jackson County voter can take advantage of in-person absentee voting and of one-stop voting.
In Wanblee, a town where 90% of residents are Indian and the voting-age population is roughly equal to that of Kadoka, neither in-person absentee voting nor one-stop voting is available. On average, Indian citizens in Jackson County have to travel almost two hours round-trip to reach Kadoka, and that is twice as long as the average round-trip travel time required for white citizens. The time and resources required for a trip to Kadoka, combined with the depressed socioeconomic status of Indians in Jackson County, make in-person absentee voting and therefore one-stop voting effectively unavailable for many Indians in Jackson County.
The Lawyers’ Committee and Dechert LLP challenged this arrangement in a complaint filed September 18, 2014 and followed up with a motion for preliminary injunction on October 10, 2014. The preliminary injunction was mooted after the defendants agreed to open a satellite office in Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation for the 2014 election. The office provided in-person absentee voting from October 20 until the November 4 election. The Lawyers’ Committee and Dechert LLP are now seeking a permanent injunction that would require Jackson County to provide a satellite in-person absentee voting and registration office on the Pine Ridge Reservation for all future elections. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied on May 1, 2015.
Subsequently, the County entered into a binding agreement with the State of South Dakota, under which it committed itself to opening a location in proximity to the Reservation for federal general and primary elections through 2022. On June 17, 2016, the district court issued an order granting the County’s motion to dismiss the case on grounds of lack of ripeness. Given the County’s agreement providing for a satellite office in Wanblee, equalizing the travel time to a location at which residents can vote absentee in-person and register, the case is now closed.
Click here to read plaintiffs’ October 10, 2014 Motion for Preliminary Injunction.
Click here to read our press release about the County’s decision to open a satellite voting office in Wanblee for the 2014 election.
Click here to read the Court’s May 1, 2015 Order Denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.