Politics

WyoFile: Indian voters exercise power after voting rights case





"The Voting Rights Act lawsuit that replaced at-large voting for county commissioners with district-by-district elections in Fremont County has shifted the balance of power on the commission, even in a year when the Native American district centered on the Wind River Indian Reservation was not before the voters.

Stephanie Kessler, a longtime environmental consultant and a former school board member from Lander, defeated Patrick Hickerson, an incumbent Republican county commissioner who had served for 10 years on the commission. Kessler, an independent, received 52 percent of the votes cast in District 4 to win by 149 votes.

Although Kessler felt confident of winning in the district race, she said she did not like her chances under the former at-large format.

“I probably couldn’t win (an at-large race) because I’m not known in the other communities,” Kessler said. “It would have been too great a task, too big of a commitment of time and money, to campaign county-wide.”

Under the old format, every voter in the county could vote for any candidate, regardless of where the voter or candidate resided. Voters could vote for up to three candidates one election and up to two the next. In the district format, voters in each of five districts may vote for only one candidate.

The district system, introduced to comply with a federal district judge’s ruling in the lawsuit, is meant to guarantee representation to Native Americans on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The plaintiffs pushed through a claim that Native Americans were not adequately represented under at-large voting, even though Keja Whiteman, a Native American, was elected to the county commission in an at-large election while the suit was being litigated. Fremont County is the only county in the state with district voting for county commissioners."

Get the Story:
Fresh Blood in Fremont County: The Voting Rights Act brings new representation outside the reservation (WyoFile 11/13)

Related Stories:
WyoFile: Long lines and large turnout at Wind River Reservation (11/8)
WyoFile: Getting out the votes on the Wind River Reservation (11/6)