Voter-registration case against S.D. officials unlikely to have action before Nov. 3 elections

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A federal judge probably won’t take significant action before the November 3 elections in a lawsuit alleging the South Dakota secretary of state and three state government agencies violated federal voter-registration requirements, a lawyer in the case said Monday.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Four Directions, a Native American voting-rights organization, filed the lawsuit September 16 against Secretary of State Steve Barnett, Social Services Secretary Laurie Gill, Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman, and Public Safety Secretary Craig Price.

The tribal governments and Four Directions claim violations of two sections of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. They want a federal judge to order state government to comply.

“Because of these violations of the NVRA, South Dakota is depriving thousands of tribal members and other citizens of their federally guaranteed opportunities to register to vote and to change their voter registration addresses when these citizens interact with state agencies,” the lawsuit states.

The response for state government officials is due October 21, according to Miranda Galindo. She is a lawyer for Demos, a voting-rights organization representing Four Directions. “(A)nd we do not anticipate any decisions by the court until after Election Day,” Galindo said. Native American Rights Fund is representing the two tribes.

A panel of South Dakota legislators heard about the dispute August 27 from OJ Semans from Four Directions and Kea Warne, state elections director in Barnett’s office. The lawsuit was filed three weeks later in Rapid City federal court.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol. Linda Lea Viken, who is married to U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken of Rapid City, is a member of the state Board of Elections.

“The case is very much alive,” said Terry Pechota of Rapid City, one of the attorneys representing the tribal governments and Four Directions in the matter.

The suit alleges state driver-licensing offices and state public-assistance offices weren’t consistently providing voter-registration and change-of-address documents to citizens and weren’t consistently forwarding those completed documents to county auditors.

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