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Following legal settlement with Tribes, state phases in voting-access reforms

PIERRE, SD – This election season, South Dakota is starting to implement voting-access reforms in light of a recent settlement with Native American tribes. Advocates for the tribes hope there’s proper follow-through.

In the settlement announced last month, the state agreed to designate a voting-rights coordinator to ensure statewide compliance by agencies through mandatory training and monitoring. It’s the result of a court ruling this spring that said the state violated the National Voter Registration Act.

Bret Healy, a consultant for the the Native American advocacy group Four Directions, said the situation deserves scrutiny.

“The unfortunate thing is,” he said, “even when things get won in court, there’s always recidivism, it seems to be, by public officials.”

He pointed to South Dakota’s long history of involvement in similar cases. The latest one centered around lack of opportunities to register to vote at motor-vehicle and public-assistance offices near tribal lands. The secretary of state has said a key change since then includes updated forms at driver’s license locations. Other key reforms will be addressed after the November vote.

Healy stressed that restricting voting access for Native Americans still is a problem in many states. His organization is assisting with a new lawsuit over voting opportunities for a tribe in northeastern Nevada.

“It is not a new story, but it’s an unfortunate one,” he said. “We need to make sure that everybody’s got a shot at granting that ‘consent to be governed’ at the election ballot box.”

As for the South Dakota case, the state has until early December to show that core reforms have been implemented. The secretary of state has said they’ve identified a person to be voting-rights coordinator and are making preparations for the role to begin. He said they’re also working on plans to enhance training and track voter registration, as outlined in the settlement.

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