Pine Ridge Sioux Must Travel 27 Miles from Reservation to Vote

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Pine Ridge residents (photo: Elijah Wallechinsky)

Casting ballots in an election has been challenging for members of the Sioux nation in South Dakota, where local officials have refused to set up polling places on the reservation, part of which is in Jackson County.


In a lawsuit filed by the Oglala Sioux, plaintiffs claim the lack of an election office on reservation land has forced Pine Ridge tribal members to travel at least 27 miles to Kadoka to register for voting and to vote.


And that’s the struggle for Sioux who own a car. Federal census data reportedly shows 25% of reservation residents have no access to an automobile, according to Courthouse News Service. The majority who walk to their destinations often find that a daunting if not impossible task because of the state’s harsh weather conditions.


The plaintiffs’ attorney, Matthew Rapphold, said “the state government has tried to make the right to vote inaccessible to Native American people.” His claim appears to be supported by the ruling of U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier in the 2004 Bone Shirt v. Hazeltine (pdf) case, which concluded that redistricting in South Dakota reduced the influence of Native American voters.


Sioux leaders say they have asked the county to set up an election operation on Indian land. But state and county officials allegedly refused to do so, prompting the tribe to sue in federal court.


The tribe wants Jackson County to establish a satellite voting office in the reservation town of Wanblee.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Oglala Sioux Want to Vote on the Rez (by Lacey Louwagie, Courthouse News Service)

Justice Dept. Moves to Require Polling Places in Tribal Areas (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Sioux Tribe Buys Back Sacred Land from Private Owners (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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