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Indian group complains counties seeking court costs in voting rights suit

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — An American Indian group is upset that two South Dakota counties named in a voting rights lawsuit that was dismissed are seeking to recoup their court costs from 25 Oglala Sioux members.

The lawsuit accused Shannon County of violating voting rights by failing to provide early balloting and an early registration satellite office. Fall River County, which administers elections for Shannon County, was also named in the suit.

A federal judge earlier this month dismissed the complaint after the state agreed to provide early voting satellite offices in Shannon and Todd counties. The counties filed earlier this week for court costs of more than $6,000.

Bret Healy, a spokesman for the Indian voting rights group Four Directions, told the Argus Leader by trying to recoup money those who can't afford it, the counties are trying to dissuade any future lawsuits about equal voting in Indian country. Tribal members will be less inclined to file complaints if they know they may have to pay costs, he said.

"This is intimidation, sanctioned by the state, pure and simple," Healy said.

Sara Frankenstein, a Rapid City lawyer who represents the counties, said attempting to recover costs is common in federal lawsuits.

"It always happens," she said. "It's not something that anybody does to be vindictive or send a message."

The counties have declared themselves the prevailing parties because the lawsuit was dismissed. The winning side is permitted to ask for "certain allowable costs," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement.

"The county defendants have made a request, and if there is an objection the federal court will determine whether and to what extent costs may be assessed," Jackley said.

Of the 25 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, none of them voted in last year's primary election, and only three voted in the general election. Those who voted did so on Election Day at their regular polling places.

"What that tells me, the plaintiffs — the named people — are not the thrust of the lawsuit," Frankenstein said.