Demos and the Native American Rights Fund discovered in 2019 that several South Dakota state agencies were systematically failing to provide required voter registration services – a failure especially impacting the ability of Native Americans living on reservations to access the vote. After attempting to negotiate improvements with South Dakota officials, we sued the South Dakota Secretary of State and other officials in September 2020 on behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Lakota Law Project, and two individuals. The federal lawsuit alleged violations of the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”), which requires states to provide voter registration services to individuals engaging in transactions with drivers’ license and public assistance agencies.
In May 2022, after lengthy pre-trial discovery, Judge Piersol granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs on most of their claims and ordered the remaining claims to be tried in July 2022. The parties then agreed to work with a magistrate judge as a mediator in an effort to settle the case. In September 2022, the parties entered into a detailed, 30-page settlement plan which resolved all claims in plaintiffs’ favor and spelled out the actions the state must take – including staff training, data monitoring and reporting, and improving forms and guidance documents – to ensure that state agencies provide the robust voter registration services required by the NVRA. The district court will retain enforcement authority over the agreement until September 2025. Currently, we are closely monitoring implementation to ensure that state officials abide by the terms of the settlement.
Also working on this case with Demos and the Native American Rights Fund are Joseph Wardenski LLC and the Pechota Law Firm.