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Daschle seeks hearings over Indian voter problems

The following is the text of a letter from Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) requesting a hearing on problems encountered by Indian voters in the state's June 1 election. June 14, 2004.

The Honorable Chris Nelson Secretary of State Capitol Building, 500 East Capitol Avenue Suite 204 Pierre SD 57501-5070

- sent by fax and mail

Dear Chris,

The right to vote is one of the most cherished in our democracy, and as public officials, it is incumbent upon us to encourage all South Dakotans to exercise this right and participate in the democratic process. However, recent news accounts and reports to my office raise very real concerns about how election laws are being enforced in Indian Country and whether people are being denied the right to vote.

Reports in the Lakota Journal, Rapid City Journal, Mitchell Daily Republic and the Argus Leader, outline a number of disturbing anecdotes from Native Americans who were subject to harassment at the polls and multiple stories from voters who were denied the opportunity to vote if they lacked photo identification. In particular, it appears a number of voters without a photo identification were turned away from the polls and not offered the opportunity to sign an affidavit swearing to their identity and legal residence, as the law allows. It is my understanding that in some cases, poll workers were given incorrect instructions and were unaware that the law allowed voters with identification to vote by signing an affidavit. The Argus Leader reported that election workers in Corson County received written instructions from the County Auditor saying �Some voters are reporting that ID is not required. Please inform the voters that ID is in fact required.�

Equally disturbing are reports from Indian Country of individuals harassing and attempting to intimidate Native American voters who sought to vote on Election Day. The Lakota Journal reported acts of continued harassment and intimidation by a Republican Party poll watcher. As you are aware, similar allegations of voter intimidation surfaced in 2002 and I am disappointed that some persist in their attempts to dissuade lawfully registered voters from exercising their right to vote.

I am sure you will agree that poorly trained poll workers, and unchecked acts of voter suppression and intimidation are unacceptable and must be prevented in future elections. To that end, I urge you, at a minimum, to take the following steps to deal with this situation:

1. Conduct a full investigation into why some voters were incorrectly denied the right to vote and why some election workers were provided incorrect information. Investigating and punishing those who violate the law as they seek to exclude legal voters from the voting booth is essential to ending voter intimidation in South Dakota.

2. Hold public hearings, preferably in Indian Country and ask for people to come forward to testify about their voting experiences during the June 1 elections.

3. Have each county auditor produce a public report on how they plan to train election workers in the new laws to ensure that every one knows exactly what the new laws are and how they are to be applied. It is critical that poll workers and those responsible for maintaining the integrity of our elections are properly trained and fully understand new legislation governing election-day procedures.

I�m sure you agree, Chris, that this is not a partisan or political issue. In many cases the problems that we are hearing about from Election Day may not have been a product of malicious intent, but instead of confusion coming from the new laws. I believe that Republicans and Democrats alike can agree that we need to increase voter participation, not find ways to make it more difficult.

We have the opportunity to correct this before November 2. I stand ready to assist you in any way possible and look forward to working with you to ensure every legally registered South Dakotan can vote. Please let me know how you plan to move forward.

With best wishes, I am


Tom Daschle

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