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Native Sun News: Early voting centers on reservations on hold

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Establishing early voting sites on reservations put on hold
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY - The South Dakota Board of Elections had decided not to endorse the idea of using federal funds to establish voting sites in the Native American communities.

The Mission based group, Four Directions Inc., had requested that the board endorse a plan to use the funding from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to establish three new voting centers in Wanblee, Eagle Butte and Fort Thompson.

The state has about $9 million remaining in HAVA funding, which could, according the Four Directions Inc. could have funded the three voting centers for less than $50,000 per election.

The towns are heavily Native American, with populations ranging from 89 percent to 97 percent. The group’s proposal is that the satellite stations in the three towns be set up 46 days before primary and general elections so that their operations would match the election activities in the county seats.

All three towns have larger populations than their county seats. Fort Thompson has a population of 1,375 people, while the county seat of Buffalo County, Gann Valley, has a population of 14.

County seats are the only places where people can cast in-person absentee ballots.

The proposal also had the backing of the county governments as well as three tribes, the Cheyenne River, Crow Creek and Oglala Sioux tribes. The proposal was presented by OJ Semans, the executive director of Four Directions, and spokesman Bret Healy.

Gant, however, insisted that before he could authorize HAVA funds for the satellite offices, he wanted approval from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which administers the HAVA process.

Board member, Linda Viken asked Gant that if the Election Assistance Commission gave its approval, would he agree to use HAVA funds for the satellite offices.

Gant responded that he would make the decision if he knew he had the authority.

Board member Patty McGee argued that residents in the three communities in question already have the same voting rights as residents in other counties. She also pointed out that Native Americans in the three communities already travel to their county seats to get driver’s licenses and welfare benefits.

But Healy argued that there’s a difference between other counties and the three in question. Native Americans are a protected class under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the three communities in question have large percentages of that protected class.

Viken and board member Dick Casey made a motion stating that the board supported the satellite offices and asking Gant to obtain approval from the Election Assistance Commission. The motion was defeated 4-3.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was passed by the United States Congress to make sweeping reforms to the nation's voting process. HAVA addresses improvements to voting systems and voter access that were identified following the 2000 election.

(Contact Karin Eagle at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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