Lawsuit claims redistricting in Thurston County discriminated against Native Americans

By: - January 24, 2023 1:19 pm

Federal courthouse in downtown Lincoln. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Lawyers on behalf of the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes of Nebraska have gone to court to object to redistricting plans adopted by the Thurston County Board for its seven members.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court maintains that county supervisor districts were intentionally redrawn to dilute the vote of Native Americans, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Nearly 60% of the northeast Nebraska county’s voting age population is Native American, yet the lawsuit states, that the Thurston County Board reduced the percentages of Native American voters in two districts, “denying them an opportunity to have a controlling majority” on the board for the next decade.

“Instead of following the law to provide four of the seven districts with effective Native American voter majorities, the board rigged the district map in a way to reduce Native American representation into the minority,” said one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, Cheyenne Robinson, secretary of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska.

Thurston County Attorney Tammy Mauk-Bodlak declined to comment when reached Tuesday afternoon. Glen Meyer, the chairman of the Thurston County Board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit says it is the third time Thurston County has been sued over alleged violations involving the Voting Rights Act and underrepresentation of Native Americans.

The latest suit states that the county board, after hearing protests from the local tribes, reduced the majority of Native Americans in two districts, from 62.64% to 59.5% in District 3, and from 52.84% to 51.26% in District 5 “with the intent to discriminate against American Indian voters.”

The two tribes have headquarters in Thurston County.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the tribes by the Native American Rights Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Big Fire Law and Policy Group.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.