Tribes and Voting Rights Group Sue SD for Voter Registration Violations


Photo of South Dakota capitol building

On September 16, 2020, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and voting rights group Four Directions filed a federal court complaint against South Dakota officials for failing to offer voter registration services through state agencies serving the public, as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

Under the NVRA, state public assistance agencies and motor vehicle offices are required to provide voter registration services when people apply for services, renew their eligibility, or provide change-of-address information. The complaint documents a steep drop in voter registration applications from public assistance agencies in recent years, and other clear evidence of non-compliance with the NVRA.

In this matter, the Tribes are represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Four Directions is represented by Demos.

NARF Staff Attorney Jacqueline De León commented, “We documented Native American residents routinely being underserved by the state of South Dakota when it came to voter registration. Native Americans are not being offered the voter registration opportunities they are entitled to under law. We told the state that there was a problem, but they did not fix it. Apparently they did not see the disenfranchisement of Native voters and the silencing of Native voices as an important issue. We do.”

“Voter registration has been going down in South Dakota and it’s no accident—violating the NVRA is a major cause. This is what voter suppression looks like,” said NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth.

Brenda Wright, Senior Advisor for Legal Strategies at Demos, said, “The right to vote has never been more important, and access to voter registration is key to exercising that right. Especially during a pandemic, when voter registration drives are on hold, state agencies need to honor their obligations under the NVRA to make voter registration convenient and accessible in everyday transactions with the public. This lawsuit is necessary to ensure that South Dakotans can have their voices heard.”

The violations described in the complaint include:

  • Failure to provide voter registration applications to persons during all public benefits transactions covered by the NVRA
  • Failure to update applicants’ voter registration address when they report a change of address to public benefits agencies
  • Failure to provide voter registration services to persons who lack either a social security number or driver’s license

Read more about the Tribes’ fight to protect Native voters→