Lower Brule tribe sues Lyman County over redistricting plan

May 24, 2022 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe is suing Lyman County in federal court for delaying a redistricting plan that would ensure the timely election of tribal candidates to the County Commission.

The tribe says the delay prevents them from electing two commissioners in the upcoming election. Instead, the Lower Brule will have to wait until 2024 and 2026.

Lyman County has had an at-large election process since 1992. That means candidates running for the five commissioner seats can live anywhere within the county.

Lyman County contains part of the Lower Brule reservation and has a Native American population of 38%. With at-large elections, no Native American candidate has ever succeeded in winning a seat on the commission, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported.

To avoid a lawsuit, Lyman County and Lower Brule agreed that the county must establish two commissioner positions chosen by Native American voters.

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In October 2021, Lower Brule proposed five single-candidate districts, two of them with a Native American majority and three with a white majority. According to plaintiffs, that scheme was legal under existing South Dakota law.

But in February, the Lyman County Commission enacted an ordinance establishing just two voting districts, one white with three commissioners and one Native American with two commissioners. The commission also voted to delay the changes until after the next election, leaving the at-large system in play.

As a result, only one Native American commissioner could be elected in 2024, with the second one elected in 2026.

Lyman County has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.