The Montana District and Allocation Commission is responsible for redrawing the state’s legislative districts to reflect each community in Montana. Voters must be able to elect lawmakers who represent different viewpoints and can come together to address the issues facing our state. This responsibility demands that the Commission ensure that voices are heard in all parts of our state and that no one is left behind. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that when the Commission proposed maps earlier this month, the Republican Commissioners presented two proposals that would both eliminate majority-minority districts and nullify the ability for Native Montanese to elect the candidates of their choice.
Republican Commissioner Stusek’s proposal would separate the Blackfeet and Flathead reservations. It totally eliminates a majority-minority House district and a majority-minority Senate district shared by the two reservations. Commissioner Essmann’s map would eliminate the Senate district shared by Fort Belknap, Rocky Boy, and Fort Peck while making it much more difficult to elect prime Native candidates in any district in northeastern Montana. Both Republican proposals would make it nearly impossible for prime Native candidates to win House and Senate seats in districts encompassing the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.
That’s a disservice in Montana. Indigenous citizens are part of the fabric of this state. We contribute millions of dollars to the economy, enrich our culture and take care of our neighbours. Designing legislative districts that deny us the same right to equal participation in the political process as other Montanans is wrong, and it is illegal. Article 2 of the law on the right to vote guarantees minorities the right to constituencies where they are in the majority and can elect the candidates of their choice. Protection of minority voting rights is also a requirement under the Montana Constitution. Article II, Section 4 of the Montana Constitution prohibits the state from infringing a citizen’s political rights to representation “on the basis of race, color, sex, culture, origin or social condition, or political or religious ideas”.
The elimination of majority-minority legislative districts in Indian Country and the dilution of Indigenous votes have other major consequences for the entire state. He makes maps, in which Republicans are favored to win more than 70% of legislative seats with just 57% of the vote, even more biased. Are the Republican Commissioners so desperate to create undue advantages for their party that they have now stooped far enough to steal seats from Indian Country? It’s just bottom-of-the-barrel politics, and it’s a broken promise from the Republican commissioners.
At the June 2021 Commission meeting, Republican Commissioner Essmann emphatically stated, “As far as history goes, we are not proposing to repeal the Voting Rights Act today. We propose to keep federal Indian reserves intact. We cannot express how much we want Commissioner Essmann to keep his promise from this day forward. However, since he has not, we will continue to fight for our place at the table in Commission hearings and, if illegal cards are adopted, in court.
Signed on behalf of the following members of the Montana American Indian Caucus:
Senator Shane A. Morigeau,
Senator Susan Webber,
Senator Mike Fox,
Representative Jonathan Windy Boy,
Rep. Donavon Hawk,
Rep. Rynalea Whiteman Pena,
Rep. Tyson Running Wolf,
Representative Sharon Stewart Peregoy,
Rep. Marvin Weatherwax,
Representative Frank Smith