He said it was important to “capture the essence of what this bill does, which is addressing the inequities that have been created and providing the necessary resources and oversight to affirm tribes’ rights to equal treatment and to assert their sovereignty in the electoral process.”
While we’re talking about Native American voting rights, let’s also talk briefly about redistricting. As I wrote last month, Native Americans (and many other marginalized groups) have been trying to assert themselves in the process, not only for the House but also for state legislatures.
The results have been mixed.
Take North Dakota. Native Americans there want to change the “at-large” system the state uses for its legislative districts, each of which has one state senator and two state representatives for the whole district. In contrast to a system in which Senate districts are subdivided into smaller House districts, this setup dilutes the influence of groups who are clustered in a discrete portion of the district, like Native Americans on reservations. In a subdivided district, they would be able to elect a representative of their choice, but in an at-large district, non-Native voters outnumber them and choose both representatives.
They also wanted the state’s redistricting committee to hold some of its public hearings on or near reservations so that Native Americans could participate even if they couldn’t travel to Bismarck, the capital. That hasn’t happened: All but one hearing has been in Bismarck, and the only one held elsewhere was in Fargo, which isn’t near the reservations either. And advocates say tribal leaders haven’t been included in the consultation process.
“We started very early with our requests, and I don’t think we’re going to get any of our requests honored,” Nicole Montclair-Donaghy, the executive director of North Dakota Native Vote and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in an interview last week.
They did get one thing: This week, the committee agreed to subdivide the districts containing two of North Dakota’s four Native American reservations, the Fort Berthold Reservation in the western part of the state and the Turtle Mountain Reservation in the north. But the districts containing the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake reservations will not be subdivided, and those tribes may sue as a result.
One consequence of the at-large system, Ms. Montclair-Donaghy said, is that tribes are often represented by legislators who vote against issues that are supported by an overwhelming percentage of tribal members. For instance, legislators representing the Standing Rock Reservation voted for bills that targeted protesters after the demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.