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Lyman County says it cannot comply with Voting Rights Act in November

Lyman Co Courthouse cropped top.jpg

On Aug. 11, a federal district judge ordered the Lyman County Commission to come up with an election plan for November that does not violate the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s federal voting rights.

Four days later the county commission approved an amended ordinance that gives the tribe a chance to elect two of its preferred candidates to the county commission, but not until 2024. Three of the five county commissioners voting on that plan are up for reelection this year.

Lyman County filed notice of its intent to appeal the judge’s order to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked the federal judge for an emergency stay of the Aug. 11 order pending appeal.

The judge said no.

Lyman County’s population is about 40 percent Native, but under the county’s current voting structure—a single district with five at-large county commissioners—the Lower Brule tribe’s vote is diluted and its preferred candidates cannot win. That situation violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

The tribe and county started working toward a remedy in October 2021.

In early 2022 the Lyman County Commission came up with a proposal to establish two districts that would likely result in the election of two tribe-preferred county commission candidates, one in 2024 and the other in 2026. The tribe disagreed with the delay and sued.

After U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange ordered the Lyman County Commission to form an election plan for November that does not violate federal law, the commission amended its ordinance to allow both tribe-preferred candidates to be on the ballot in 2024. But that plan still leaves the illegal single district in place for November.

Three of the commissioners voting on the plan are incumbents up for reelection this year.

Two Lower Brule citizens are also candidates on the ballot this year. They would likely be elected if Lower Brule had a majority district with two commission seats, as Lyman County has proposed for 2024.

The county has said in briefs and in testimony that it does not have time to make changes before November. In its Aug. 18 response to the judge’s order, the county noted it sent ballots to the printer the day before, the same day the county notified the court that it intends to appeal.

Judge Lange replied that there isn’t anything to appeal at this point, because the court has not yet taken the issue out of the county’s hands and fashioned its own remedy. Judge Lange set a hearing on the matter for Aug. 23.

The Lyman County Commission has scheduled a second reading of its amended ordinance on Monday, Aug. 22.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007.
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