ACLU Sues South Dakota Secretary Of State Over Illegal Voter Disfranchisement

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

James Freedland, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Sues South Dakota Secretary Of State Over Illegal Voter Disfranchisement

Group Represents Voters Unlawfully Removed From Voter Rolls In November

SIOUX FALLS, SD - The
American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court today
to restore the voting rights of two American Indian women who were
illegally disfranchised in November's election. The lawsuit was filed
in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of South Dakota on
behalf of Kim Colhoff and Eileen Janis, who attempted to vote last fall
but were improperly removed from the voter rolls due to felony
convictions. Because state law only disfranchises individuals sentenced
to prison and both women were just sentenced to probation, election
officials unlawfully took away their voting rights.

"These cases represent the tragedy
of what happens when election officials do not know how to administer
the law," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights
Project. "Here the consequence was devastating - not only did election
administrators take away these women's constitutional rights in a
humiliating way, but they robbed them of the opportunity to participate
in this historic election. We are confident the court will make sure
that this egregious kind of voter disfranchisement does not happen
again."

Colhoff and Janis, both residents of
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, registered to vote for the first time in 1974
and 1984, respectively, and remained on the voter rolls until early
2008 after they were each convicted of a felony offense and sentenced
to five years probation, but no jail time. Despite the fact that South
Dakota only disfranchises those sentenced to prison, Colhoff and Janis
were removed from the voter rolls without any notice and denied the
right to vote at their polling places when they attempted to vote in
November. In front of several other voters, election officials refused
to allow Janis to cast either a regular or provisional ballot.

"It's deeply disturbing that my vote
was taken away because of administrative incompetence," said Janis. "No
lawful voter should be denied the right to vote simply because election
workers don't understand the rules. I will never get the chance to go
back and make my voice heard. It's hard not to feel like a second-class
citizen when such a fundamental right is stolen in such a random way."

According to the ACLU's lawsuit,
South Dakota election officials removed Colhoff and Janis from the
voter rolls in violation of their rights to equal protection and due
process under the federal and state constitutions, the Help America
Vote Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act
of 1965. The lawsuit names Secretary of State Chris Nelson, Shannon
Country Auditor Sue Ganje and state board of elections members as
defendants.

"The people of South Dakota deserve
better from their government than this. The duty of every election
official is to ensure that every eligible voter is given the
opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote. At a bare minimum,
officials should know the law so that votes are protected, not
rejected," said Robert Doody, Executive Director of the ACLU, South
Dakota Chapter.

Attorneys on this case are Abudu,
Bryan Sells and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project;
Doody of the ACLU, South Dakota Chapter; and cooperating attorney
Patrick Duffy.

A copy of today's legal complaint is available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/exoffenders/38751res20090218.html

More information about the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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