Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Systematic Republican Disenfranchisement Efforts Against Native Americans Underway In South Dakota


Friday, Digby, Amato and I trucked over to a get-together Norman Lear was throwing for a branch of People for the American Way, the Young Elected Officials Network, which supports elected leaders ages 35 and under as they define issues, develop solutions and respond to the needs of their communities. 

You may remember that two years ago DWT readers helped South Dakota candidate Kevin Killer raise enough money to compete successfully in his race for a seat in the South Dakota legislature. When I ran into Kevin Friday at the event, he told me it had been an excellent two years and the Republicans aren't even bothering to run someone against him this year. That's great news, and Kevin is spending a lot of time helping elect other progressives. Here's a video he made talking about the challenges facing rural districts like his:

Yesterday I got a note from another South Dakota progressive candidate we've met before, Ben Nesselhuf, who's running for Secretary of State. Remember? Ben mentioned some serious right-wing disenfranchisement efforts against Native Americans going on in his state, and I recognized the area as part of Kevin Killer's district.
In the latest instance of decades of blatant racially motivated voter disenfranchisement in South Dakota, Republican officials at the state and county level have begun the process of limiting Native American access to the ballot. Shannon County, home of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, faces the prospect of no early voting access this fall. Worse still, there remains the very real possibility of no Election Day voting at all in Shannon County.

There is little ambiguity to what has transpired in South Dakota in the last month. According to the 2000 Census, Shannon County is 94.2% Native American. Lying entirely on reservation land, Shannon County is the second poorest county in the United States. In the 2004 and 2008 elections, Shannon County has been the highest Democratic performing county in the country. In 2008, Barack Obama received 88.6% of the vote in Shannon County. Because of the rural nature of the county, it has traditionally seen much higher levels of absentee and early voting than the South Dakota averages.

Because Shannon County is one of two unorganized counties in South Dakota, elections have been administered by neighboring Fall River County. This has been standard procedure for over thirty years. Frustrated and seeing a political opportunity, however, Republican officials at the state and county level decided to act. In August, county officials in Fall River County made it clear they would resign if asked to administer the same early voting opportunities in Shannon County that every other county receives. When they were formally asked to do so on September 3, 2010, a number of county officials subsequently resigned, leaving no one to run the election in Shannon County.

The next Thursday, September 9, Republican Secretary of State Chris Nelson met with officials from both Shannon and Fall River Counties. As reported by the Rapid City Journal, Nelson arbitrarily declared that Shannon County had only until the next Monday, September 13, to resolve the situation. In addition to only giving Shannon County two business days to respond, Nelson repeatedly suggested that there was nothing that the state could do to help. Brazenly, Nelson told those gathered at the meeting, “You all have a huge challenge on your hands.” Nelson, the chief elections officer in the state and a former Republican candidate for Congress, is prepared to sit idly by and watch an entire county be disenfranchised.

As of now, there is no plan in place for how any elections are to take place in Shannon County, South Dakota. Voting rights groups believe the turnout for the 2010 cycle in Shannon County could be as high as 5,000 votes, a sizeable percentage of the state vote in South Dakota. Because many of those votes will be for Democrats, South Dakota Republicans are willing to take on lengthy legal fights to protect [the decision], because they know it can’t be resolved before election day.

None of this is new. For the past several years, South Dakota has openly flouted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, considering fair and equal access to the ballot an unnecessary hassle that the state need not worry about. This has led to numerous lawsuits, all of which have been lost by the state. The problem is that by the time the court resolves the issues, the damage has been done.

You can imagine that Ben isn't taking this sitting down-- nor did it come as a surprise to him. He's running on a platform of fair and equal elections in South Dakota in every county. He feels it's the obligation of the state to make sure that every county has the resources and facilities they need to have early voting and smoothly run elections. On September 8, Nesselhuf was quoted in Indian Country Today saying that he considers the way the state has run previous elections as “systematic disenfranchisement.”

His far right Republican opponent has nothing to say about this, although he keeps screaming about voter fraud and sounds like ACORN is sending agents to South Dakota homes to steal elections and children. For Republican officials in South Dakota, every time a Native American votes, it’s “fraud.”

Here's Ben's website, and you can donate to his campaign directly through ActBlue. This video is a little light for the seriousness of the topic. Hopefully it will help Ben get elected so he can take care of it.

Labels: , , ,


At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really outrageous. How can the Republicans get away with this kind of systematic, blatant injustice!?!?

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that if they would actually help the Native Americans in Shannon County, they would bet their vote. Common sense? Not all Republicans are like this. This is a bad batch of politicians. Keep fighting!


Post a Comment

<< Home