• U.S.

The Last Indian Battleground

2 minute read
Rebecca Winters

The largest voting-rights lawsuit in U.S. history is expected to be filed this week in South Dakota, and it could have an impact on a closely watched Senate race this fall. Four Lakota Indians are challenging more than 600 election statutes that they say may have helped stymie the political power of the state’s large Native American population. The suit will contest voting regulations in two overwhelmingly Indian counties on the grounds that the state failed to clear them with the Justice Department as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The tactics being challenged include some targeted successfully by black voters in the South in the 1960s, such as “packing”–concentrating minorities in one district to minimize their political influence. The issue of voting rights is “the last battleground of the Indian wars,” says Jennifer Ring of the Dakotas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is bringing the suit. In a state where Indians make up 8% of the population, the suit could help galvanize Indian voters to turn out for a Senate race that both parties are making a priority: majority leader Tom Daschle is fighting hard for Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson, while President Bush helped draft Representative John Thune to oppose him. The suit could even force South Dakota to delay its fall elections if the U.S. District Court requires the state to wait while the U.S. Attorney General reviews the disputed statutes. South Dakota secretary of state Joyce Hazeltine, who had not yet seen the lawsuit, declined to comment on the case.

–By Rebecca Winters

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