The idea of “one person, one vote” is one of democracy’s greatest strengths. Key to achieving this democratic ideal is redistricting, the once-in-a-decade opportunity to redraw the districts that make up the legislative map in South Dakota.
Ahead of the House & Senate’s Joint Redistricting Committee meeting on Monday, the ACLU is reminding legislators that they have an obligation to uphold the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and complying with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ACLU is committed to monitoring their work to ensure fair and equal representation for everyone – particularly for the state’s Indigenous population.
“When redistricting is conducted properly, district lines are redrawn to reflect population changes and racial diversity,” said Candi Brings Plenty, ACLU of South Dakota Indigenous justice organizer. “But too often, redistricting is used as a political tool to manipulate the outcome of elections, a widespread, undemocratic practice that’s stifling the voice of too many voters. Indigenous communities, in particular, have faced numerous obstacles to meaningful participation in the political process, including the redistricting process.”
The committee must be especially vigilant when redrawing South Dakota’s maps so that the concerns of people who belong to racial, ethnic and minority groups are not overlooked. The ACLU recommends that the redistricting committee schedule additional public listening sessions on reservations and engage in consultation with tribal leaders. Failure to do so could lead to discriminatory district maps that may expose the state of South Dakota to costly litigation.
That’s what happened in Bone Shirt v. Hazeltine, a federal case in which a panel of judges found the state discriminated against Indigenous South Dakotans by not thoroughly involving them in the 2001 redistricting process. Because the current hearing locations do not include reservations, public testimony from Indigenous people could be even more limited than what occurred in Bone Shirt.
“There is a real concern that public testimony in the locations selected will result in even fewer Indigenous people providing input – if not eliminating it entirely – in some regions,” Brings Plenty said. “Our state is leading the way across the board in our legislative leadership. Let’s continue to lead the way and make it easier for all South Dakotans to be seen, heard, represented, and with additional opportunities for our tribal nations to give public comment with their tribal communities.”
A copy of the ACLU of South Dakota’s written testimony to the House & Senate’s Joint Redistricting Committee is below.
About the ACLU of South Dakota
Based in Sioux Falls, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.