Judge refuses to dismiss tribes’ lawsuit over redistricting

July 8, 2022 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge in North Dakota has denied the state’s request to throw out a lawsuit brought by two Native American tribes that allege the state’s new legislative map dilutes tribal members’ voting strength.

The lawsuit filed in February by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Spirit Lake Tribe alleges that the state’s Republican-led Legislature’s new map violated the Voting Rights Act.

U.S. District Judge Peter Welte’s ruling Thursday dismissed the state’s argument that the tribes lacked the standing to sue.

Welte, who is based in Fargo, said the state’s argument was without merit and the tribes “do have standing to protect the voting rights of its members.”

Secretary of State Al Jaeger, the state’s top elections official, said Friday that he would not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Legislature approved the map in November. It separates the state House districts on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota and the Fort Berthold reservation, which is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes and in the west of the state.

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Turtle Mountain argues that the map “packs” tribal members into a single House district on its reservation while diluting their vote with non-native voters in the non-reservation subdistrict.

Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold were the only tribes of five that occupy American Indian reservations in the state that had the needed population to qualify under the Voting Rights Act for split House districts, which is about 8,450 people at present for each divided district.

Tribal leaders from Spirit Lake, which is less than 100 miles (161 kilometers) from the Turtle Mountain Reservation, appealed to legislators during the redistricting process to include its reservation with Turtle Mountain to bolster its voting power.