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PIERRE, SD, September 16, 2020 – Today, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and voting rights group Four Directions filed a federal court complaint against South Dakota officials for failing to offer voter registration services through state agencies serving the public, as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). 

Under the NVRA, state public assistance agencies and motor vehicle offices are required to provide voter registration services when people apply for services, renew their eligibility, or provide change-of-address information. The complaint documents a steep drop in voter registration applications from public assistance agencies in recent years, and other clear evidence of non-compliance with the NVRA.

In this matter, the Tribes are represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Four Directions is represented by Demos.

Brenda Wright, Senior Advisor for Legal Strategies at Demos, said, “The right to vote has never been more important, and access to voter registration is key to exercising that right. Especially during a pandemic, when voter registration drives are on hold, state agencies need to honor their obligations under the NVRA to make voter registration convenient and accessible in everyday transactions with the public. This lawsuit is necessary to ensure that South Dakotans can have their voices heard.”

NARF Staff AttorneyJacqueline De León commented, “We documented Native American residents routinely being underserved by the state of South Dakota when it came to voter registration. Native Americans are not being offered the voter registration opportunities they are entitled to under law. We told the state that there was a problem, but they did not fix it. Apparently they did not see the disenfranchisement of Native voters and the silencing of Native voices as an important issue. We do.”

“Voter registration has been going down in South Dakota and it’s no accident—violating the NVRA is a major cause. This is what voter suppression looks like,” said NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth.

The violations described in the complaint include:

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  • Failure to provide voter registration applications to persons during all public benefits transactions covered by the NVRA
  • Failure to update applicants’ voter registration address when they report a change of address to public benefits agencies
  • Failure to provide voter registration services to persons who lack either a social security number or driver’s license
  • Since 1970, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has provided specialized legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide. NARF has successfully asserted and defended the most important rights of Indians and tribes in hundreds of major cases in such critical areas as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, voting rights, and Indian education. NARF is a non-profit 501c(3) organization that focuses on applying existing laws and treaties to guarantee that national and state governments live up to their legal obligations to Native Americans. Follow us on Facebook @NativeAmericanRightsFund and Twitter @NDNrights to learn about the latest fights to promote justice and protect Native American rights.  Demos is a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy. Through cutting-edge policy research, inspiring litigation, and deep relationships with grassroots organizations, Demos champions solutions that will create a democracy and economy rooted in racial equity. To learn more visit www.demos.org.