Following the results of a historic referendum this week, a Native American group pledged on Thursday to file an injunction in tribal court to halt the legalization of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The American Indian Movement Grassroots, an activist organization that is opposed to legalization, believes that Tuesday's vote was illegal due to a lack of polling sites, improper notice for tribal members, inadequate training for election workers and other issues.
After all ballots were tallied by midnight Wednesday — and some removed because they were filled out incorrectly — a narrow majority of reservation voters chose to legalize alcohol 1,871 to 1,679 votes, or 52.7 to 47.3 percent. The result, if approved by the tribal council later this month, will end a ban on alcohol that has existed for the near-entirety of the reservation's 124-year history.
However, Thomas Cheyenne, president of the American Indian Movement Grassroots, said he believed that a majority of tribal members would have voted against legalization if more had gotten to the polls.
"There's a lot of them, because of transportation," he said. "And it wasn't notified. There wasn't enough information for the tribal members — they weren't informed on what was going to happen."
But Francis Pumpkin Seed, chairman of the tribe's election commission, disputed those complaints on Thursday.
He said the overall count of 3,550 valid votes was one of the highest in Oglala Sioux history — higher than its council election in November.
"Had the numbers been really, really low, I would say maybe there was a mistake, but the numbers were higher than the general election," he said.
Pumpkin Seed said it was true that Tuesday's election was conducted on a tight budget. In a general election, the tribe's executive branch usually budgets about $150,000. This election, the executive branch allocated $15,000 to his commission.
Pumpkin Seed said that meant he could only plan to open nine polling places instead of the usual 22, which, while not preferable, was not illegal. Tribal law doesn't stipulate how many polling sites need to open on the day of an election.
He said the training given to election workers was the same as any regular election.
Pumpkin Seed also insisted that his commission provided proper public notice about the referendum date. While the law says a general tribal election requires 180 days of notice, it offers no guidance on how much notice is needed for a special election. He said his commission sent out election notices on June 29, two weeks before the referendum, and it was advertised in print, radio and television.
"I don't believe my commission has violated any sections of that law," he said.
Ultimately, he said he believed the American Indian Movement Grassroots would be wasting its time by filing an injunction.
He said the normal process to challenge an election result is to file a complaint with his office within three days of the election's certification. His office then has five days to tell the complainant whether it agrees or disagree with the complaint. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the commission's ruling, that party can then appeal to the tribal supreme court.
By filing an injunction at this point, Pumpkin Seed said, the lower courts will only turn it away and say that the matter is outside of its jurisdiction.
"It's only going to prolong their own process," he said.
Whether the American Indian Movement Grassroots files an injunction or files an election complaint this week, it's unlikely to deter the group from trying to stop legalization.
Cheyenne said that if the group feels its complaints aren't heard, it may hold protests.
He said alcohol legalization would only hurt the Lakota culture and aggravate existing alcohol problems on the reservation.
"The crime rate and the death rate from alcohol will increase," he said. "Cirrhosis and everything that comes with it. And violence, which is going to be a bigger problem."
[Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect a correction. Thomas Cheyenne said "cirrhosis" would be an increasing problem if alcohol is legalized on the reservation]