Montana counties skirt Native voting rights case settlement

Mark Wandering Medicine, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana. was the lead plaintiff in the Wandering Medicine voting rights lawsuit. Photo from National Commission on Voting Rights

A settlement in Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch, an Indian voting rights case that drew national attention, hasn't been fully implemented in Montana, The Great Falls Tribune reports.

The settlement required three counties to establish satellite voting offices on reservations. But only Big Horn County, home to the Crow Tribe, did so in time last November's election, the paper reported.

Officials in Rosebud County didn't set one up because they said the Northern Cheyenne Tribe made the request too late. Blaine County gave the same excuse to the Fort Belknap Indian Community, telling President Mark Azure that he sent a letter four days late.

The lack of compliance did not appear to bother Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who was the named defendant in the case. Although she now claims the state is "ahead of the game" in terms of Indian voting rights she appeared to blame the tribes for the lack of satellite offices in Rosebud and Blaine counties.

Mark Wandering Medicine, center, is seen here with other plaintiffs in the voting rights case and their supporters. Photo by Joseph Zummo / Reporting from Indian Country

“Those three counties still have to do it if the tribes request it in time," McCulloch told the paper. "If the tribal governments don’t want it, they won’t receive it.”

Without satellite offices, tribal members must travel long distances to register to vote, participate in early voting and cast ballots. In the case of Rosebud County, the round trip to the county seat is 120 miles.

McCulloch also said the settlement only applies to the counties that were named in the suit and she contends she lacks the authority otherwise to order compliance. That would change if Congress passes S.1912, the Native American Voting Rights Act.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced the bill on July 30. It require states to place polling sites on reservations at the request of tribes.

"This has nothing to do with anything but voter access to the polls, and that’s the bottom line," Tester told the paper.

Get the Story:
Montana voting rights case inspires national legislation (The Great Falls Tribune 8/14)

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