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Federal judge approves election map settlement between Nebraska county and 2 tribes

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A federal judge has approved an agreement between two tribes and an eastern Nebraska county that gives Native American voters a majority in five of the county's seven board districts.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter Jr. called the agreement a “fair, reasonable and adequate” settlement of a lawsuit in which the Winnebago and Omaha tribes alleged that Thurston County and its board of supervisors violated the Voting Rights Act with a district map adopted in 2022.

“The settlement reasonably resolves difficult voting rights issues in a manner that is fair to all parties,” Rossiter said in his Jan. 26 ruling.

Thurston County is on Nebraska's border with Iowa, between Omaha, Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa. Much of it overlaps the two tribes’ reservations. Native Americans make up 50.3% of the county’s voting age population, compared to 43% for whites.

The Sioux City Journal reported that the settlement includes a new district map, which the county has approved for this year’s election.

The tribes and nine individuals sued in January 2023, saying the 2022 map violated federal law because it did not provide Native American voters a fair chance to elect candidates of their choice in at least four of the seven districts. The map gave them a clear majority in only three.

The county board currently has two Native American and five white members.

The parties reached agreement on a redrawn map in November.

“This is the third time the county has been sued under the Voting Rights Act and the third time the county has had to take court-ordered corrective action. Hopefully this is the last time this has to be done,” said Mike Carter, a lawyer with the Native American Rights Fund.

The county had denied the discrimination claims. But Board Chairman Glen Meyer said the agreement was reached amicably.

“The tribes and county cooperated in developing a new map, which addressed the concerns of both parties and resolved the issue," Meyer said.