In South Dakota, the use of single-winner at-large elections has long prevented the election of Native American candidates. South Dakota has the third highest concentration of Native Americans, making up approximately 8.8% of the total population. Yet, Native Americans remain starkly underrepresented. The recent adoption of fair representation voting methods in several communities has helped to promote Native American representation.
In 1989, Sisseton, South Dakota became the first South Dakota community to use cumulative voting to elect its school board. In its first election using cumulative voting, almost 50% of Native American voters turned out and more than 90% of Native American voters reported “plumping” their votes behind a candidate of choice. As a result, a Native American candidate was successfully elected to the school board for the first time.
Since then, both Wagner, South Dakota (2002) and Martin, South Dakota (2007) have implemented cumulative voting for local elections. Despite Native Americans making up more than 40% of the population of Wagner and Martin, each jurisdiction had elected less than 5 Native American candidates over the past 20 years. After the ACLU of South Dakota filed complaints, both towns adopted cumulative voting methods. As a result, Native American candidates have been consistently elected in both communities. To learn more about fair representation voting methods and how they work, go to our proportional representation page.