In opening statements of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa v. Howe redistricting case last June, Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Staff Attorney Michael Carter described the struggle faced by Native voters in the state, “Native Americans in North Dakota, or those on their behalf, have had to take legal action at least nine times to protect their voting rights.” The June trial was the latest defense of Native voting rights in North Dakota.

After the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, North Dakota continued to prevent Native citizens from voting for 34 more years. Even after finally securing the legal right to vote in 1958, Native people in North Dakota had to continue fighting for fair elections. Repeatedly, they have had to challenge legislation and state actions that discriminate against or target the Native vote. That dismal record continues with the circumstances that led to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa case. In that case, Native voters and tribal nations claim that the state’s 2021 redistricting map dilutes the power of Native votes.

“Between 2010 and 2020, the Native American share of the state’s voting population increased by almost ten thousand voters to 5.9% of the state’s voting age population. Despite the increase … the state’s 2021 redistricting plan reduced the number of legislators who could be elected from Native American opportunity districts from three, down to two,” said Carter. “Just think about that: the Native American voting population increased, but their opportunity to elect decreased under this new plan. And now, there are no Native Americans serving in the State Senate for the first time since 1990.”

Graphic: North Dakota Native populations are increasing, but Native voters have decreasing levels of representation.

The lawsuit was filed in eastern North Dakota and challenges the state’s 2021 redistricting map for packing a supermajority of Native voters into one state House subdistrict while cracking apart Native voters on the Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake reservations into separate districts and subdistricts. The splintered district boundaries limit the impact Native votes can have on elections, violating the Voting Rights Act.

During the trial, individual Native voters and tribal representatives testified to the hostility they faced from elected officials leading the state’s redistricting process. After North Dakota officials rejected requests from the plaintiff Tribes and their members for their vote to not be diluted, the state adopted a map that will reduce the ability of Native people to elect representation for the next 10 years. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, the Spirit Lake Tribe, and individual voters await the court’s decision. NARF, the Campaign Legal Center, the Law Offices of Bryan Sells, and Robins Kaplan LLP represent the plaintiffs.

Collette Brown and Doug Yankton of the Spirit Lake Tribe, June 2023.

Meanwhile, in western North Dakota, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation will defend the voting rights of its members in a trial slated for December 2023. In that case, Walen v. Burgum, the tribe opposes the plaintiffs who are asking the court to block a new voting district that allows Native voters a chance to elect representation in that part of the state.

NARF Defends Native Voters – As Many Times As It Takes

Please help us defend the rights of Native voters in North Dakota and beyond. Support our work including the fight for fair election district maps in TMC v. Howe by donating to NARF. To learn more about fair redistricting and obstacles Native voters face, check out:

Learn More about Turtle Mountain Chippewa et al v. Michael Howe (formerly Jaeger):

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