Jordy Yager in The Hill. Discussion »
BILLINGS, MONTANA A federal judge in Montana has shot down an attempt by Native American tribes to get better voting access.
In an election where the Native American vote could make or break Sen. Jon Tester's (D-Mont.) return to Capitol Hill and the fate of the Democratic majority in the Senate, US District Judge Richard Cebull has rejected a legal push by Montana tribes to set up satellite offices on three reservations where thousands of eligible voters could go to complete their late registration or early voting forms.
"I'm not arguing that the opportunity is equal for Indian persons as it is to non-Indians,"
Cebull said, according to the Associated Press.
"Because of poverty, because of the lack of vehicles and that sort of thing, it's probably not equal. However, you have to prove that they can't elect candidates of their choice."The 15 Native American plaintiffs and the Department of Justice say the state is violating the Voters Rights Act and discriminating against Indian voters by not giving them the same access as white Montanans.
The Native tribes were upset by the judge's denial of their lawsuit, which was filed against Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (D). But they pledged to persevere until they received the equal voting treatment they deserve under the law.
"The judge was wrong on the law and the defendants are on the wrong side of history,"
said Tom Rodgers, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Indian tribe, and a lobbyist with the Carlyle Consulting group, in a phone interview with The Hill Wednesday night. Rodgers is not a plaintiff in the suit, but is backing the tribes.
There are an estimated 30,000 eligible Native American voters in Montana, according to Rodgers. But most of those potential voters live on reservations, which means they have to drive as many as 113 miles to complete their late registration or early voting forms.
With less than a week to go before Election Day, Tester will almost certainly need the Native American vote which generally leans Democratic if he hopes to beat Republican challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg and help block GOP efforts to take control of the upper chamber.
Tester's seat is one of a handful that Republicans hope to win in their efforts to gain the additional four Senate seats they need, while retaining all of their vulnerable seats, to take the majority in the chamber.
Senate Republicans would need only three seats to take the majority if Mitt Romney is elected president.
Native Americans in 2006 are largely credited with giving Tester the boost at the polls he needed to narrowly beat out Republican Sen. Conrad Burns by just 3,500 votes out of more than 400,000 cast. Read More »
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posted November 1, 2012 1:10 pm edt