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tv   The Stream  Al Jazeera  October 17, 2013 7:30pm-8:01pm EDT

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>> hi i'm lisa fletcher and you're in the stream. some native americans drive more than 100 miles to cast a ballot and they're fed up. voting, it is essential to our democracy. but some native americans in montana say they don't have equal access. they filed a lawsuit against county and state election officials asking for satellite voting on their reservations to begin 30 days prior to election,
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just like everywhere else in the state. >> there's a law out there for almost anything that we want to do. and one of the laws is the right to vote. and all we're trying to do today is see that the state government, you know, helps us enforce that law. we want the secretary of state to stand beside us and say this needs to be done. >> election officials say they don't have the budget to set up those sites. also at stake, the potential for native american voters to change election outcomes. this controversy reaches beyond montana to other states, south dakota, arizona, we're talking about some gangt -- significant reactions. wajahat ali, many native americans have to drive this far
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just to cast a ballot. >> they are very empathetic and outraged. turtle heart, said, many of the more remote indian reservations are without a car to reach apology places and -- polling places. especially in south dakota and alaska. it's persistent pernicious and adaptive. and kenji said native americans shouldn't have to be -- have to pay for their votes to be counted. throughout the show use the twitter hashtag, ajam stream. >> love lynn has worked on native american voting rights since the 1960s.
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in our google plus hangout sarah frankenstein. , and hans, manager of the election law reform initiative. welcome everyone to the th thans for being here. >> several counties and the montana secretary of state's office for equal voting rights, what printed the lawsuit? >> my native american constituent. who came home in a flag draped coffin. we can fight and die for our country, and equally, we engage in the military at higher percentages than any segment of society. but when we can't come home we do not have the same access to voting. i thought that was inherently
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and morally and ethically unfair. i reached out to the secretary of state and asked her to have a meeting on this issue. for 89 days she declined. for 89 days i had the chairman of the blackfoot write her. she declined. but if montana is just to this side of tea party. once again we were sty mi stymii thought that was wrong and so i filed a lawsuit. >> that was a year ago? >> a year ago on december the 10th. >> hans, do native americans have a case? >> no, they don't and that's with the federal district court judge. it's important for the viewers to understand, this is not a
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case about voting on election day. on election day there are precincts open all around the county. what the tribe was trying to do is force the county to open up early voting sites. right now if you want to vote before election day you can do it by mail by absentee ballot coso you don't have to drive 100 miles or you can do it in person absentee ballot at the chorus. they were trying to force them to open up other places where they could cast an in-person absentee ballot. but you don't have a constitutional or a statutory right to do that. that's convenience voting. all the places they wanted opened up for early voting those are places you can vote on election day and in fact there are polling places more convenient than sites they wanted opened up. >> hans, are other montana
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nrvetions vote -- -- montanans afford he that opportunity? >> if you want to vote absentee you go to the courthouse, doesn't matter whether you're native american or anything else. the point is the court said this look if you really can't get to the polling place on election day you can vote by absentee mail. you can request an absentee blood by mail. you can mail it back, you don't have to drive anywhere to do that. >> laughlin how is the situation of native americans different than any other american living in a rural part of the united states? >> well, i think indians have special problems. the poverty rate is much higher on the reservation as it is off the reservation. indians lack access to automobiles. they can't get in the car and drive, if they can't afford automobiles.
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there is not easy access to bus transportation. that was of course sarah is on this panel and she may disagree but i've listened to the oral arguments and read the brief and i think the court is going to reverse. i base that on a similar case in north dakota, on spirit lake, in north dakota, they closed two of the eight precincts in the county and they closed all but one in the courthouse and the court granted a preliminary injunction and cited a whole bunch of factors, including the one in montana, the indians had a disparate socioeconomic status, it would take them hours to get there, so the court ordered them to open up the two precincts on the reservation and i'm inclined to believe that is the ultimate result of the
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current case. >> all access to polls ari says, native americans shouldn't be left out because of where they live. elaine says, please don't let americans whine and blame themselves. exampl-- stamp versus satellite voting. what is your absence to that sarah? >> you can drop that ballot at your local polling place which is close to where you live because it's in imlur precinct -- request your precinct, so we have a very accessible way of voting in montana. we have numerous ways to vote by convenience. what's interesting in this case, we have so many different way a montanan can cast a vote and it's meant to offer people an array of options so they can
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choose the most convenient option themselves. what the plaintiff is doing is having the one of the options that's the least convenient for them and they're suing to make it equally convenient for them as it is with other folks. that flies in the face of the early voting movement which was to give options for people to choose which method is most convenient for me? and then of course vote in that manner. >> tom, i know you don't agree with that manner but why? >> fundamentally, i know hans and sarah believe strongly in their positions but it demonstrates an incredible lack of awareness with regard to the native american community. the circuit court appeals unequal access is defined by extreme poverty and distance. if you've ever been to reservations, that's the one thing i've listened to hans words, and to use the words convenience voting is insulting
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to the native americans. cut bank and forsyte and hardin, are purposefully put there, we do not have cars, a lot of our cars we don't have insurance, we don't have tags. you're a single woman and you've got two children's, you have -- two children, you don't have a partner in your life you've got $20 in your account. are you going too drive to cutbank? incredibly curltly unaware -- culturally unaware. >> for sites to be open for early voting those sites are all open on election day so people don't have a problem getting to them. the other issue that's important
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to keep in mind is that the judge went through and pointed out that native americans do not have any problems. exercising their voting rights under the current conditions. because -- >> hans, you -- >> no, listen. the judge pointed out that in these three counties, native americans have been elected to county positions, the state legislature, in fact in big horn county they have seven of the nine county positions so they haven't had any problems exercising their voting rights. >> quick response. >> the judge who had to resign from a federal judgeship because of his racial comments about our president. just keep citing that court decision. >> hang on guys we have to hitter a break. we'll come back to the decision in two minutes. how does this impact native americans across the u.s., are they going to get greater
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access? on the air, into the conversation when we come back. [[voiceover]] every day, events sweep across our country. and with them, a storm of views. how can you fully understand the impact unless you've heard angles you hadn't considered? antonio mora brings you smart conversation that challenges the status quo with unexpected opinions and a fresh outlook. including yours.
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al jazeera america - a new voice in american journalism - >> introduces america tonight. >> in egypt, police fired teargas
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at supporters of the ... >> a fresh take on the stories that connect to you. [[voiceover]] they risk never returning to the united states. >> grounded. >> real. >> unconventional. [[voiceover]] we spent time with some members of the gangster disciples. >> really slick practices and how to discourage voters from actually exercising their rights. and i feel like this is one of the cases that they're trying to do to native americans, due to the way that they actually vote. i think it's a form of discrimination and i think it's despicable. >> welcome back. we're talking about native american voting rights in light of a recent montana lawsuit that
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alleges unlawfu unlawful voting. if the court decides in favor of native americans what miert we see in other -- what might we see in other states? >> well it's a vote denial case. that is the plaintiffs are basically being denied the right to vote because they don't have access to these satellite sites. the district court ruled that not only did you have to show a burden on voting rights but you also had to show that indians were unable to elect candidates of their choice and that places an additional burden on the plaintiff. so if the court of appeals reverses and sets aside i hope they will do so and make clear that the law only requires the plaintiffs to show that there is a disparate impact as a result of the impact so that could have
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a very strong impact on seminal litigation procedures that deny people access to voting. the right to vote is set centuries ago by the supreme court that it's fundamental because it is reserve tiff to all votes. the right to vote is protected by more constitutional amendments than any right we have. the first, 14th, 15th, 24th, giving women the right to vote but despite that we still see jurisdictions that are unwilling to provide access to people so that they can in fact vote. >> sarah is there anywhere in the country where we see concentrated population he like this, that don't have the same sort of access afforded to them as other americans that may live in closer more metro areas? >> we've had a number of cases that have brought this type of
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issue to the courts, in all of those cases the courts rule in fraifer of the defendants. -- favor of the defendants. because let's be clear we're talking about convenience voting here. there is no right to a absentee ballot in our case law. there's a right to vote certainly but not aright to have an absentee ballot and various forms of convenience voting. if that's a funnel right all states would have it. only 32 states have early voting and other states have no method at all. you have to have an excuse authorized by the state. we're not talking about the fundamental right to vote. we're talking about convenience voting. 32 states have come up with different more convenient ways of voting but what's interesting is the studies actually show the more convenience options you give voters the less likely they are to turn out to vote. the states with fewer early voting options actually have
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higher voting percentages. so we're not talking about keeping people from voting. the case law says as long as you can cast your vote one way or the other that is not a burden to you, then you don't have a case. >> jade says that reservations have enough oppression and outside racism to last for years. we shouldn't make them pay to be heard. and marginalized population isn't being marginalized. and rick says there's no racial diversity in montana other than nonwhites, might not even be citizens. tom i'm going to go to you is this playing a role here or is it racially neutral? >> sadly in the 21st century we still have racism in this country and in my own state. i'm proudly from montana. there was a comment after a story that said as follows: why don't we just put all those
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indiindians in a vw bus and we'e distributing our welfare checks at half time. you tell me, maybe they'll just vote. put us in a bus, entice us with welfare checks. >> where does that come from? >> that was a comment from the building gazette story. it was illegal to have a polling place on the reservation. we've had even after the citizenship act was passed in 1924, we didn't get the right to vote. in the late 1800s there was an editor of the montana post one of the largest newspapers, said you know what, i like a grizzly hide better because it's more usable than necessitate of
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american hide. what sarah and hans don't understand and don't get, and i know they hold their positions strongly is they have absolutely no understanding with regard to the culture, mail-in balloting for native americans, some ufer our mail -- some of our mailboxes have ten families sharing one mailbox. the rest of the citizens in montana get 29 more days than we do. but do you think she can drive to cutbank? it was snowing in browning yesterday. >> there was a case certainly that's being played by tom and others for discrimination. does the court see a difference between something that is purposefully discriminatory and something that just has a discriminatory effect? >> this doesn't have either. that's an important point to keep in mind. and that is shown by the fact,
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let's not talk about -- look, the past history of the state i agree, the native americans are treated discriminatorily. but today in the three counties that they sued, native americans are the state senators, they are the state house representatives, they are elected to county positions, as i said in big horn county they hold seven, seven of the nine county positions. they do not have a problem voting. any more than other voters. in fact they are exercising their power and they are electing their candidates of choice. >> that's not the point tom. >> no, that is point. and in fact t as the judge said, there is no discriminatory effect her. they are able to elect mayor candidates of choice. this is a section 2 lawsuit under the voting rights act and they have not met the most basic elements of showing a section 2 violation and that's what the district court found in his
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opinion. >> all right we got to hit a break. when we come back though, by some estimates putting polling places on reservations for extended time prior to election day would increase voter turnout by 2 to 300 percent. what would that do? think about that and here are a couple of other stories we're following.
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on august 20th,
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>> the stories are heartbreaking. about what we have done to take away their land.
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which is basically taking away their culture. glad to see that people are making strides to amend the damage that has been done over the last several hundred years. >> welcome back. we're talking about native american voting rights in a case just heard by the ninth circuit court of appeals alleging unequal access. in montana voters have about 30% turnout, when they have equal access, that raises to 70%. tom, could the balance be shifted in county commission seats to gubernatorial race? >> remember, these three counties don't come to this untainted. these counties were under supervision by the department of justice for their racial redistricting. that's a point.
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second point back in 2006 when the senate was on a knife's edge and the votes came in for john tester, he won by 3600 votes, tim johnson won by 500 votes, al franken beat by 300 votes, maria cantwell, we are like the latino vote, we can decide elections and by deciding who votes in the united states senate. >> what's stopping native americans turning out en masse from the reservation? >> once again it is the cultural awareness. we do have -- everything is local, tribal election is 70%, right here in my face. but once again you're dealing with an incredible lack, we don't have the skill set, the education, the resources. the most poverty -- we're three
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times the rate of poverty in the rest of the country. the unemployment rate on our reservation is 80%. mail-in balloting, you can't do mail-in balloting with regard to native americans. i have an 82 year old mother, if she gets a letter from the government she doesn't read it. >> what's the barrier to that same sort of turnout on election day for general election? >> they think that by voting for the tribal chairman or tribal council can make a difference but the lack of trust for government off the reservation is incredible -- remember you are dealing with a culture and a society that has an incredible mistrust level and they feel that no one cares about them. >> community politics out of play here. national voter suppression problem launched by ultraconservatives according to matthew. ora says, look at new mexico,
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arizona, are, latino rebels, hundred miles to vote, that's ridiculous. take this all the way to the supreme court, lawful, is this where it is going ogo, supreme court? >> it could very well, yes, it could, i'd like to make two points. one is just to clarify. you do not have to prove discriminatory purpose to make out a violation of section 2 of the voting rights act. congress amended section 2 in 1982 to expressly provide that you can establish a violation if you show discriminate that tri purpose or a discriminatory effect. and then i would like to make one other point. there has been an increase in india voting in big horn county but it was all the result of litigation. one of the first lawsuits filed after the 1982 amendment of the voting rights act was filed on
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behalf of tribal members in big horn county. they challenged the at large method of electing the county commission. indians had frequently run for the commission but weren't elected. whites wouldn't vote for india candidates. >> i want to give you the last word. >> listen to what tox said before. 70% turnout with elections for tribal council but lower turnout on regular elections on election day where there are very convenient places to vote. that's not a procedural issue, not a problem where the election sites are. that is a cultural problem that has nothing to do with the file -- >> out of time. thanks so much for all your input, see you tomorrow.
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>> good evening everyone and welcome to al jazeera america i'm john siegenthaler in new york. >> nothing has done more to undermine our economy these past three years, than the kind of tactics that create these manufactured crises. >> the day after the government reopens but critics of the president warn the battle is far from over. the fiscal assess fire, what it -- cease fire what is means for wall street and main street? and what is next, immigration reform, helping the nation's farmers as the dust settles, a call for congress to move forward.


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