Court Overturns Election Procedures That Dilute American Indian Vote In Wyoming

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Maria Archuleta, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

Court Overturns Election Procedures That Dilute American Indian Vote In Wyoming

Decision Comes In ACLU Lawsuit

CHEYENNE, WY - A
federal court in Wyoming ruled late Thursday that the at-large method
of electing officials to the County Board of Commissioners in Fremont
County, Wyoming discriminates against American Indian voters in
violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits
the use of voting practices that dilute minority voting strength. The
ruling follows a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on
behalf of American Indian voters on the Wind River Reservation in
Fremont County challenging the county's elections procedures.

"Every American has the right to
participate equally in the political process," said Laughlin McDonald,
Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The court recognized that
voting in Fremont County is unfortunately polarized along racial lines
and that the county's election procedures unfairly diluted the American
Indian vote."

Today's decision overturns the
at-large elections of Fremont County Commissioners and requires the
implementation of district elections. A final hearing as to the remedy
and a timetable for its implementation is set for August 13, 2010.
Under an at-large system, where all voters can vote on all seats up for
election, a bloc voting majority can control the outcome of all
elections. District elections, where voters choose candidates from
their area, are recognized as a remedy for minority vote dilution.

"At-large elections can severely
hinder minority vote participation," said McDonald. "We're relieved
that a much fairer system will be implemented."

Approximately 20 percent of Fremont
County residents are American Indian, yet prior to the filing of the
lawsuit no American Indian had ever been elected to the five-member
board of commissioners. According to the ACLU, American Indian voters
in the western United States face the same kind of voting
discrimination that has plagued black voters in the south for
generations.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in
October 2005, and in response, Fremont County asked the court not only
to uphold its elections procedures but to rule that Section 2 of the
Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, in 2006, the
U.S. Department of Justice filed an official notice of intervention in
the case arguing that the court should uphold Section 2 and supporting
the ACLU's lawsuit. In January 2007, the U.S. District Court for the
District of Wyoming ruled that Section 2 was constitutional.

Attorneys on the case, Large v. Fremont County,
include McDonald, Bryan Sells and Meredith Bell-Platts of the ACLU
Voting Rights Project and Andrew Baldwin and Berthenia Crocker, ACLU
cooperating attorneys in Lander, Wyoming.

Today's U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming decision can be found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/large-v-fremont-county-opinion

The court's 2007 decision upholding Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/large-v-fremont-county-order-denying-motion-summary-judgment

The ACLU's complaint can be found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/large-v-fremont-county-complaint

 

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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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