“Native Vote” Disenfranchisement Occurs as County in North Dakota Fails to Protect Voting Rights of Spirit Lake Nation

Published on Nov 24, 2010

NCAI Calls on Benson County to Partner with Tribe to Solve Problem


September 24, 2010 - Washington, D.C. – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has called Tuesday’s rejection by the Benson County Board of Commissioners to continue a polling place on the Spirit Lake Reservation a major incident of Native voter disenfranchisement. The decision leaves thousands of American Indians who live on the Spirit Lake Reservation, a tribal nation which stretches 495 square miles, without a voting location in proximity to the tribal nation.

“American Indian people are U.S. citizens and as such, we have a right to vote. Benson County has failed to fulfill its duty to protect the voting rights of the people of the Spirit Lake Nation. We strongly urge the County Commissioners to accept the request of the Nation to partner to meet the needs of this community,” said Jefferson Keel, the President of the nation’s oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization. “Concern is very high in Indian Country right now. With months to go till the general election, we’re already seeing significant cases of voter disenfranchisement occurring in the most active Native voting communities.”

The Benson County Commission on September 21, 2010 rejected a request from the Spirit Lake Nation to keep the polling place in Fort Totten, N.D.  Benson County, which switched to a mail-in voting system this year, briefly considered the request to open one polling place on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation for the November 2 general election. The Nation offered the use of its own facilities to reduce any concerns about cost.  With a rate of unemployment exceeding 47% many citizens do not have the ability to travel to polling sites off the Reservation. In South Dakota, tribal leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe are challenging a similar decision by Shannon County and the Department of Justice is reviewing the incident.

NCAI monitors and tracks Native voting issues on the website, www.nativevote.org.


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