The Spirit Lake Tribe located in northeastern North Dakota is filing suit against the Benson County Board of Commissioners. According to the Devil’s Lake Journal, the tribe is asking a federal court to stop the county from closing polling places on the reservation.
The county cited high expenses as a basis for closing the 3 reservation polling cites. Although the tribe offered to recruit, train and pay election workers and provide space for the polling cites, the county refused the offer.
In a tribal press release Chairman Myra Pearson said, “Whether this is intentional discrimination or not, the bottom line is that closing polling locations located within the Spirit Lake Nation will disenfranchise American Indian voters on the reservation, and this injustice cannot stand.”
Pearson cited a long history of voter discrimination towards Native Americans and noted a 2000 Department of Justice suit against Benson County alleging voter suppression and discrimination against Native Americans. The US District Court for the District of North Dakota found that Native American citizens within Benson County have suffered a history of official racial discrimination.
Statistics from the Benson County Auditor’s office, notes the Devil’s Lake Journal, show almost 43 percent of total votes cast in the county in the 2008 presidential election were cast by Native Americans: 30 percent of the county’s vote during the last mid-term election came from the reservation.