Good citizens of Montana, please tell your secretary of state and the election officials of Rosebud, Blaine and Big Horn counties to stop wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars – eventually maybe millions – fighting Native voting rights!
A federal judge in Billings just chewed out the high-priced lawyer your elected officials hired from South Dakota – calling “vexatious” and “frivolous” attorney Sarah Frankenstein’s latest attempts to fight the voting-rights lawsuit Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch.
In this lawsuit, your fellow citizens on the Northern Cheyenne, Fort Belknap and Crow reservations ask for equal access to early voting and late registration. When this issue was first argued in court in 2012, the secretary of state and county officials stated repeatedly that there wasn’t enough time to set this up. It’s been 14 months, and still no efforts have been made to establish early-voting offices. So much for that excuse.
This is the second public scolding federal judges have administered to Frankenstein in recent months. In October, I was in the courtroom in Portland, Ore., when she brushed off questions from the learned judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as “academic.” I thought I saw steam coming out of their ears. Just kidding. But the judges did say, ominously, “When judges ask questions, it’s not helpful to deflect them,” then ruled against her.
So we’re back to square one, and the meter is ticking for you on those top-dollar billable hours.
How do I know attorney Frankenstein is high-priced? I know something of what she’s been paid in South Dakota, where I am from, where I run a national voting-rights nonprofit from my Rosebud Sioux Reservation, and where she just lost a similar voting-rights case, Brooks v. Gant. The federal judge in South Dakota dismissed it because Frankenstein’s side caved and allowed early voting on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation until 2019, so there was no more threat of “imminent harm.”
By the way, in South Dakota, the state, counties and other jurisdictions have lost more than 20 voting-rights cases. Frankenstein has been right there, making a lot of money, along with her fellow lawyers, and gaining nothing for South Dakota’s people except a lot of bad feelings and losing time after time in court.
Equal access to the ballot box is all your fellow citizens want. With it, they can participate in the political process and work on improving social and economic conditions on their reservations. I didn’t make this up. It’s a connection scores of intellectuals and research studies have shown.
Folks of Montana, do you really want to spend your money on keeping conditions on reservations from improving? Equal rights, and fewer deeply impoverished citizens, are good for everyone. In fact, equal rights are part of the sweep of history, no matter how much anyone spends.
Please contact Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (firstname.lastname@example.org; (406) 444-4195) and ask her to do the right thing: Negotiate with the plaintiffs to withdraw from the case and agree that Montana’s Native citizens should have equal access to the ballot box.
Oliver J. Semans is executive director of Four Directions Inc., which is based in South Dakota.