The Spirit Lake Tribe, voter Collette Brown, and voter Lois Leben have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota against Benson County, North Dakota, for adopting a redistricting plan that violates the rights of Native voters. In response to a Native population increase of 17%, Benson County abandoned its previous district system altogether and adopted an at-large voting system that prevents the increased number of Native votes from having an impact in elections.

“Elected officials cannot subvert democracy by using the redistricting process as a tool to reduce the voting power of one group of voters,” said Spirit Lake Tribe Chairperson Doug Yankton. “Racial discrimination continues to impact Spirit Lake tribal citizens in voting and Benson County can no longer perpetuate this discrimination.”

North Dakota Capitol

The North Dakota county brazenly made the change while subject to a consent decree issued by the court in 2000. “Benson County officials knew for a fact that adopting the at-large election system would illegally dilute the Native vote because the court had already prevented them from this form of voter suppression,” said plaintiff and voter Collette Brown (Spirit Lake Tribe).

The decree prevented the county from adopting an at-large voting system because such an election system dilutes Native votes and violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). “Elected officials in power in Benson County, North Dakota, have no legal right to silence 46% of the local voting population,” said plaintiff and voter Lois Leben (Spirit Lake Tribe).

A fair district system in compliance with the VRA entitles Native voters in Benson County with at least two majority-Native voting districts. Instead of creating districts that reflect demographic changes, the county developed an election system that would ensure Native voters could not amass enough votes to elect a candidate to the Benson County Board of Commissioners. NARF, Hogan Lovells, and the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, represent the Spirit Lake Tribe and individual voters in their lawsuit against Benson County.

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