‘Blanket’ deal aims to improve Native American access to vote, revamp SD registration practices – Mitchell Republic

SIOUX FALLS, SD — South Dakota state agencies that issue driver’s licenses and oversee public assistance programs will see changes in how they handle voter registration going forward.

A federal judge approved a

settlement agreement

on September 6, which will bring these agencies into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, requiring a statewide coordinator, voter registration training, and updated forms and registration procedures.

The settlement, which will remain in place for three years, is the culmination of Rosebud Sioux Tribe and. Al.c. Barnett. In 2020, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe sued a handful of state agencies under the supervision of Secretary of State Steve Barnett, claiming his office failed to provide training, guidance, and support. adequate oversight of voter registration services, particularly in Native American. communities.

“It’s quite historic. This is a truly comprehensive and detailed settlement agreement. There really is no way the state can continue to violate the law under this agreement,” said Samantha Kelty, a Native American Rights Fund attorney who was part of the team representing the plaintiffs in the case. , at Forum News Service on September 29. 7. “These are all best practices that states across the country have been using for years to ensure compliance, and South Dakota was not.”

For example, the regulation sets out specific responsibilities for the Office of the Secretary of State to ensure compliance and accuracy of voter registration services provided by state agencies, requiring a written report of any “problems resulting in the an individual’s failure to register to vote or experience a delay in registering to vote.

This part of the agreement addresses the concerns of Complainant and Rosebud Sioux Tribe member Kimberly Dillon, who claims she was unable to vote in the 2020 presidential election because the voter registration form ‘she submitted to a state employee was misguided.

Another part of the regulations calls for revamped “problem site” registration services and training, which are established where the Department of Public Safety does not have a driver’s license office and instead contracts with a other government agency to provide driver’s license and identification services.

These sites are common on reservations and in rural areas, and despite federal law requiring these agencies to provide registration services, the complainants said that many of these sites were either poorly trained to provide these services or did not provide them. at all.

The secretary of state’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

The National Voter Registration Act, known as the Motor Vehicle Voter Act, was passed in 1993. The law applies to state motor vehicle agencies, requiring the inclusion of a form voter registration as part of a driver’s license application, as well as any state agency that administers federal or state public assistance programs, such as Medicaid or nutrition programs.

In May of this year, a federal district court

sided with the plaintiffs

on several of the allegations in the trial.

a joint


by the plaintiffs in the case points out that the decision has implications that go beyond simply helping Native American voters.

“This settlement brings victory to Native people seeking to register to vote in South Dakota, and to all voters who support fair U.S. elections this year and in the future,” wrote Chase Iron Eyes, co-director of the Lakota People’s Law Project, in the release.

Jason Harvard is a

Report for America

Corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at