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Sole Native American district remains

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PIERRE, S.D. ? South Dakota's Redistricting Committee voted to keep a special district drawn to favor the Lakota voters from the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux reservations after being urged to comply with the minority voting rights requirements under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The committee earlier considered dissolving the special district, but State Rep. Tom Van Norman, D-Eagle Butte, whose seat would have been lost, fought to keep the district allowing more prospects for American Indians to be elected to state offices.

There are changes. The new District 28A won't include McLaughlin and Wakpala. Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas, said she was happy with the vote on 28A, but said the committee failed to address other counties where reservation areas are included.

Ring said she wants the Legislature to create a second American Indian-weighted House district around the Crow Creek and Lower Brule reservations. In addition, she wants to see District 26 redrawn similar to 28A, weighting it more favorably for tribal residents.

The committee approved the proposal by Rep. Matthew Michels, R-Yankton, to depart from a guideline adopted earlier to not create any single-member House of Representatives districts.

Ring said South Dakota and North Dakota lawmakers are still struggling with the concept of single-member districts and applying federal requirements for racial balancing. Voters in each of South Dakota's 35 legislative districts elect two representatives and one senator.

The exception is District 28, where the state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Legislature could not eliminate the special district except when the entire state is subject to redistricting. Van Norman addressed the committee a final time during public testimony asking committee members to retain the special district.

'There seems to be a strong community there,' Michels said. Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Dupree, represents District 28 and said he did not want his district split. Bogue said he did not disagree with carving out a special district for the Lakota, but added he couldn't vote to split his district because it violated the 'one man, one vote' principal.

Even though nearly all maps considered earlier by the committee included Corson County with its neighbors east of the Missouri River, the committee decided to keep the county in District 28.

South Dakota voters told representatives who spoke Oct. 10, they wanted to see little change in their districts. Corson County, within the current District 28 and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, was an area eyed for change. It includes a large population of white ranchers who wanted to remain in a district west of the Missouri River.

'East River does not have the problems we do, not a full understanding of the problems we face,' Corson County Commissioner Mary Hollenbeck said.

Most of the areas under heaviest debate were those outside the state's two largest cities. Black Hawk and Ellsworth Air Force Base were included with District 33 instead of being included with Rapid City. A strip of Meade County was grouped with Perkins County and the rest of the District 28.

Legislators said the split was to accommodate the District 28A single-member House district. The committee made minor changes to the Rapid City area map that includes districts 30, 32, 33, 34 and 35. They will impact Pennington, Custer and Fall River counties.

Rep. Mike Derby, R-Rapid City, committee co-chairman, said the changes were necessary after the decision to keep Corson County west of the river.

Committee members said they want maps projected onto large screens in both legislative chambers during the upcoming special session Oct. 23-25. The public will be allowed to testify in one hearing to offer amendments for lawmakers to consider before adopting the plan. Under federal law, the group has until Dec. 1 to adopt a plan or the state Supreme Court will mandate a district plan for the state.