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Voting rights case settled in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. ñ Martin city officials have orders from the U.S. District Court to redraw city council lines that will correct voting rights violations against the American Indian voting population.

American Indians make up 45 percent of the cityís population but, because of the current redistricting plan, are allegedly unable to elect candidates of their choice to city offices.

A lawsuit, Cottier v. City of Martin, was originally filed in 2002 against the town of Martin with the intent of correcting the redistricting plan adopted that year. The plan, according to the plaintiffs, diluted the American Indian voting strength.

ìThis ruling will enable Indian voters to enjoy the right that many other South Dakotas take for granted: the right to have a say in their local government. The decision also benefits everyone by promoting fairness and a more democratic city government,î said Bryan Sells, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Unionís Voting Rights Project.

District Judge Karen Schreier ruled in her original decision that the city of Martin did not violate one of the three factors, known as ìGinglesî factors after a U.S. Supreme Court decision, needed to prove a voting rights violation. These factors are the baseline indicators of voter discrimination.

The ruling was appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded the case back to the lower court after concluding that the district court erred in its findings about the three Gingles factors.

In 2002, the city of Martin passed an ordinance to redraw the district boundaries that was challenged by the ACLU, which claimed the ordinance was malapportioned and that it fragmented the American Indian vote. The city admitted the error and a new ordinance was drawn that improved the malapportionment but continued to violate paragraph two, which deals with dilution or fragmentation.

Schreier, in her opinion, wrote that the city council was informed by the stateís attorney generalís office that the ordinance diluted the American Indian vote and, as stated during the trial, the councilís comment was: ìWe donít know what we are going to do about it.î

Therefore, Schreier ruled that the city was aware of the violation when it adopted the ordinance.

Schreier relied heavily on a recent case that was ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Boneshirt v. Nelson. Schreier also heard that case and ruled for the plaintiffs, which was affirmed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The state of South Dakota asked that the case be reviewed. Boneshirt dealt with a state redistricting plan that packed one district with American Indian voters, instead of splitting two districts to give the American Indian voters a chance to elect preferred candidates in two districts.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals relied on and quoted from Cottier as well. Cottier was sent down to the district court in 2005 and the final ruling was released on Dec. 6.

Schreier agreed with the appellate judges in their conclusion that South Dakota was a state that perpetrated racial discrimination, especially in voting rights.

ìThe court finds that Indians continue to suffer the effects of discrimination, including lower levels of income and education. Additionally, the court finds that Indians in Martin suffer from depressed levels of political activity,î Schreier wrote.

The defendants claimed that because some American Indians had been elected to city office in the past it did not practice racial discrimination. Schreier found that since 1981 only seven American Indian candidates were elected to office, and one or two of those were not a preferred candidate.

ìAs a result, the court finds that Indians are rarely elected to the Martin City Council,î Schreier wrote.

The courts have to rely on Senate factors that determine whether discrimination occurred during political campaigns. Schreier noted that in the state of South Dakota, overt racial appeals or comments have occurred. During the 1998 gubernatorial race, the stateís largest newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, printed the headline: ìHunhoff picks Indian woman as running mate.î

Bernie Hunhoff, candidate for governor, chose Elsie Meeks, Oglala, to run for the office of lieutenant governor.

In 2002 the local Martin newspaper ran advertisements suggesting voter fraud by American Indians, even though there was no evidence of fraud.

In the 2002 primary and general elections in Bennett County, in which Martin is located, rumors were spread that if an American Indian were elected to the county commission land would be placed into trust status and taken off the tax rolls.

Bennett County is located next to the Pine Ridge Reservation and is considered part of the reservation. One of the nine tribal districts is partially located in Bennett County and the city of Martin.

A 2003 exit poll found that 100 percent of the American Indians who voted in Ward 1 voted for their preferred candidate, who lost the election. In Ward 3, the American Indian-preferred candidate also lost despite an 86 percent vote from American Indians.

The court found, as a result of this poll, that racially

polarized voting occurs in the city of Martin. Schreier wrote that the American Indian population in Martin suffers from the effects of past discrimination, which includes lower levels of income, education, home ownership, automobile ownership and standard of living.

The court has given the city of Martin the chance to redraw the districts, which will then be reviewed by the court. The city has until Jan. 5, 2007, to file the remedial proposals. The entire review process is to take no longer than 30 days.

The American Civil Liberties Union submitted, in 2002, three possible proposals for redistricting the city; the city rejected all of them. At trial it was not determined if the city council ever reviewed the proposals with any degree of detail.

The case is Cottier v. Nelson 02-5021-KES, filed in U.S. District Court, District of South Dakota Western Division. It can be found online at www.aclu.org/votingrights/minority/27624lgl20061206.html.

PIERRE, S.D. ñ Martin city officials have orders from the U.S. District Court to redraw city council lines that will correct voting rights violations against the American Indian voting population.American Indians make up 45 percent of the cityís population but, because of the current redistricting plan, are allegedly unable to elect candidates of their choice to city offices.A lawsuit, Cottier v. City of Martin, was originally filed in 2002 against the town of Martin with the intent of correcting the redistricting plan adopted that year. The plan, according to the plaintiffs, diluted the American Indian voting strength.ìThis ruling will enable Indian voters to enjoy the right that many other South Dakotas take for granted: the right to have a say in their local government. The decision also benefits everyone by promoting fairness and a more democratic city government,î said Bryan Sells, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Unionís Voting Rights Project. District Judge Karen Schreier ruled in her original decision that the city of Martin did not violate one of the three factors, known as ìGinglesî factors after a U.S. Supreme Court decision, needed to prove a voting rights violation. These factors are the baseline indicators of voter discrimination.The ruling was appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded the case back to the lower court after concluding that the district court erred in its findings about the three Gingles factors.In 2002, the city of Martin passed an ordinance to redraw the district boundaries that was challenged by the ACLU, which claimed the ordinance was malapportioned and that it fragmented the American Indian vote. The city admitted the error and a new ordinance was drawn that improved the malapportionment but continued to violate paragraph two, which deals with dilution or fragmentation.Schreier, in her opinion, wrote that the city council was informed by the stateís attorney generalís office that the ordinance diluted the American Indian vote and, as stated during the trial, the councilís comment was: ìWe donít know what we are going to do about it.î Therefore, Schreier ruled that the city was aware of the violation when it adopted the ordinance. Schreier relied heavily on a recent case that was ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Boneshirt v. Nelson. Schreier also heard that case and ruled for the plaintiffs, which was affirmed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The state of South Dakota asked that the case be reviewed. Boneshirt dealt with a state redistricting plan that packed one district with American Indian voters, instead of splitting two districts to give the American Indian voters a chance to elect preferred candidates in two districts.The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals relied on and quoted from Cottier as well. Cottier was sent down to the district court in 2005 and the final ruling was released on Dec. 6.Schreier agreed with the appellate judges in their conclusion that South Dakota was a state that perpetrated racial discrimination, especially in voting rights. ìThe court finds that Indians continue to suffer the effects of discrimination, including lower levels of income and education. Additionally, the court finds that Indians in Martin suffer from depressed levels of political activity,î Schreier wrote.The defendants claimed that because some American Indians had been elected to city office in the past it did not practice racial discrimination. Schreier found that since 1981 only seven American Indian candidates were elected to office, and one or two of those were not a preferred candidate.ìAs a result, the court finds that Indians are rarely elected to the Martin City Council,î Schreier wrote. The courts have to rely on Senate factors that determine whether discrimination occurred during political campaigns. Schreier noted that in the state of South Dakota, overt racial appeals or comments have occurred. During the 1998 gubernatorial race, the stateís largest newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, printed the headline: ìHunhoff picks Indian woman as running mate.îBernie Hunhoff, candidate for governor, chose Elsie Meeks, Oglala, to run for the office of lieutenant governor.In 2002 the local Martin newspaper ran advertisements suggesting voter fraud by American Indians, even though there was no evidence of fraud.In the 2002 primary and general elections in Bennett County, in which Martin is located, rumors were spread that if an American Indian were elected to the county commission land would be placed into trust status and taken off the tax rolls. Bennett County is located next to the Pine Ridge Reservation and is considered part of the reservation. One of the nine tribal districts is partially located in Bennett County and the city of Martin.A 2003 exit poll found that 100 percent of the American Indians who voted in Ward 1 voted for their preferred candidate, who lost the election. In Ward 3, the American Indian-preferred candidate also lost despite an 86 percent vote from American Indians.The court found, as a result of this poll, that racially polarized voting occurs in the city of Martin. Schreier wrote that the American Indian population in Martin suffers from the effects of past discrimination, which includes lower levels of income, education, home ownership, automobile ownership and standard of living.The court has given the city of Martin the chance to redraw the districts, which will then be reviewed by the court. The city has until Jan. 5, 2007, to file the remedial proposals. The entire review process is to take no longer than 30 days.The American Civil Liberties Union submitted, in 2002, three possible proposals for redistricting the city; the city rejected all of them. At trial it was not determined if the city council ever reviewed the proposals with any degree of detail. The case is Cottier v. Nelson 02-5021-KES, filed in U.S. District Court, District of South Dakota Western Division. It can be found online at www.aclu.org/votingrights/minority/27624lgl20061206.html.