Written by Darla Shumway
American Civil Liberties Union of Montana is suing the Wolf Point School District, on behalf of seven American Indian voters.
According to a statement published on their website, the ACLU claims the seven voters are being denied the equal right to representation on the high board because of discriminatory voting districts.
Wolf Point High School District 45A unites districts 3 and 45.
District 3 has a 2010 Census population of 430, according to the lawsuit, and is comprised of a majority white residents. Voters elect three members to the school board. This is one member for every 143 residents.
District 45, which has majority Native American population, had a 2010 Census population of 4,205, according to the lawsuit. The voters elect five board members for every 841 residents.
According to court documents, none of the members of the board of trustees are enrolled members of an American Indian tribe.
According to court documents, the voters claim that continuing the practices would violate rights guaranteed to the voters by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The union is asking a federal judge to force the school board of trustees to draw new districts.
"This clearly violates the principle of one person, one vote, and creates a school board where white members of the district are overrepresented and Native Americans are underrepresented," ACLU of Montana legal director Jon Ellingson said in a statement. "The school district has an obligation under both state and federal law to redraw voting districts every 10 years based upon accurate population numbers. It's long past time for the district to do that."
The voters in the case are Ronald Jackson, Ruth Jackson, Robert Manning, Patricia McGeshick, Lawrence Wetsit, Bill Whitehead and Lanette M. Clark. They are all American Indians.
Ellingson said the voters were the ones who came to the ACLU for help. They had researched and investigated the problem and determined that. He also said there has been no direct communication between the union and the school board.
In addition to the lawsuit, the ACLU is calling for the United States District Court to establish a preclearance for the Wolf Point school district to, as Laughlin McDonald, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Voting Right Project said “prevent such racial discrimination in the future.”
Joe Paine, superintendent of the Wolf Point School District, said since it was an ongoing case, the district was unable to comment at this time.