Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1, November 2011

Savings touted in end to bilingual polling rules
Condensed by Native Village
The Voting Rights Act bases language-assistance on a formula:
The population of voting-age minority groups
English proficiency
The number of voting-age residents with less than a fifth-grade education.
The Voting Rights Act is triggered in a county if:
More than 5% of the voting-age populationy fall under the VRA criteria, or
More than 10,000 of the voting-age residents fall under  the  criteria.

South Dakota: In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau required 18 S.D. counties to provide interpreters or bilingual materials for Lakota speaking voters.  This year, a handful of counties are no longer required to do so.

The change reflects the shrinking numbers of residents who speak Lakota as a first language.

 It also comes during efforts to revitalize the Lakota language with students on the reservations.  More than 20,000 students are taught Lakota in schools, and Public Broadcasting airs a Lakota language cartoon.

Bennett County is one that has dropped its language assistance. Auditor Susan Williams said very few people needed Lakota audio voting equipment. "It was hardly used at all," she said.

Lakota language advocates have a different view.  "A right to vote doesn't mean very much if you can't understand the ballot," said Betty Smith, a professor at the University of South Dakota.

Rep. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge, is also concerned for his constituents. "It's better to err on the side of caution and have that provision than rather assume there are no fluent speakers left," he said.

South Dakota State MapSecretary of State Jason Gant views the change as an opportunity and points to the cost savings. In the state's 2010 general election, only 25 voters requested Lakota language services. Todd County spent more than $2,400 for translators and equipment, and no one used it.

Gant said his goal is making sure that no vote goes uncounted. He has written to tribal leaders for help and suggests who need help  understanding the ballot should find a friend.

"That's actually going to be a better system. There you are talking to someone who speaks the same dialogue and someone you trust," Gant said.

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