SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A federal judge temporarily ordered a South Dakota county to work with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe to implement by November a redistricting plan to allow for the election of tribal candidates to the County Commission.
The tribe had sued Lyman County, alleging a delay to a new redistricting plan until 2024 or 2026 violated federal law by keeping Native American voters from electing county commissioners who represented them.
The chief judge for the U.S. District Court in South Dakota, Roberto A. Lange, issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday, which was requested by the tribe, and suggested the court could come up with a plan to implement the new voting districts if the county does not.
“Cooperation between the Tribe and the County, between Tribal members and non-Tribal members, is crucial to the future of Lyman County,” Lange wrote in his order. “If the County does not come forward with an appropriate remedial plan, this Court can impose its own.”
Lyman County has had an at-large election process since 1992. That means candidates running for the five commissioner seats can live anywhere within the county.
Lyman County contains part of the Lower Brule reservation and has a Native population of 38 percent. But with the at-large commissioner seats, no Native American candidate has ever succeeded in winning a seat on the commission, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported.
To avoid a lawsuit, Lyman County and Lower Brule agreed that the county must establish two commissioner positions chosen by Native American voters. In October 2021, Lower Brule proposed five single-candidate districts, two of them with a Native American majority and three with a white majority.
But in February, the Lyman County Commission enacted an ordinance establishing just two voting districts, one white with three commissioners and one Native American with two commissioners. The commission also voted to delay the changes until after the next election, leaving the at-large system in play.
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Vice Chairman Neil Russell said in a statement, that the tribe “remains ready to help Lyman County make positive changes on and off-reservation: let’s get started.”
The county commission did not immediately respond to the ruling. It plans to meet Monday.