Native tribes sue to block North Dakota gerrymandering

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Two Native American tribes and tribal members have sued North Dakota’s top election official over newly drawn political boundaries that they illegally dilute the votes of Native communities.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month alleges that the map — approved by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature and signed into law by GOP Governor Doug Burgum last fall — “ensure that voters living on these two tribal reservations face a no-win scenario before every election even begins,” according to claimant Zachery S King of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

The Turtle Mountain Band and Spirit Lake Tribe allege the map violates suffrage law by grouping Native voters into a single home subdistrict, while placing “neighboring Native American voters in two other districts dominated by white voters who vote en bloc against the preference of Native Americans. candidates,” according to the lawsuit.

To comply with the Voting Rights Act, the map would have to place two tribes in a single district, where they would “constitute an effective and geographically compact majority,” according to the lawsuit. “Such a plan can be developed, is legally required, and would give these Native American voters the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to both state seats and the state senate.”

The lawsuit is part of a series of legal challenges in several states during a controversial redistricting cycle, the decade-long process of redefining the nation’s political borders based on US census results.

It is also one of the first to be filed on behalf of Aboriginal groups.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 50 cases have been filed challenging congressional and legislative maps in 19 states as racist or partisan gerrymanders.

Indigenous groups faced decades of disenfranchisement and voter suppression before and long after the passage of the Snyder Act of 1924, which granted Indigenous peoples full American citizenship.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, Native American turnout is among the lowest in the country, with 34% of eligible Natives not registered to vote.

In 2017, Governor Burgum approved a restrictive voter ID law requiring voters to show ID with a residential address in order to vote, although most tribal IDs do not have IDs. residential address.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (Getty Images)

North Dakota’s secretary of state has agreed to settle two federal voting rights lawsuits challenging the law in 2020, and Spirit Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have filed a binding agreement with the state to block it.

The state is home to five federally recognized tribes, several of which support the new map after asking that they remain in a sub-district.

Plaintiffs challenging the map argue that it “silences Native American voters on every question, reduces the chances that Native voters will be able to elect a candidate they believe best represents their community, and prevents communities in these splintered districts from receiving fair share of public resources,” according to the trial.

“In a process meant to produce electoral boundaries that fairly and accurately reflect the people of North Dakota, the state instead approved a map designed to stifle votes from Native Americans,” said Wes Davis, who is one of the plaintiffs and chair. the North Dakota Native organization. Vote.

The deadline for North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger to respond to the challenge is April 15.

Mr. Jaeger’s office said The Independent that it does not comment on ongoing litigation and that the State’s case will be presented in briefs filed with the court.

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