National | Politics

Think Progress: South Dakota county suppresses Native vote

Residents of the Crow Creek Reservation must travel 52 miles round trip if they want to participate in early voting. Image by Dylan Petrohilos / Think Progress

Think Progress reports on the difficulties facing members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe if they want to participate in early voting in Buffalo County:
While South Dakotans across the state have been voting for weeks — the state offers 46 days of early absentee voting — the Crow Creek Sioux have yet to see their ballots. The closest early voting site is a 50 mile roundtrip away in Gann Valley, a town with a population of 14. The Buffalo County auditor, a white resident of the town, has refused to set aside federal funds to open a satellite office for early voting on the reservation this year.

That 50-mile trip is effectively impossible for many people on the reservation. Sixty-five-year-old Crow Creek resident Sylvia Walters lives in a government-subsidized apartment building for the elderly and disabled in Fort Thompson, the largest town on Crow Creek. She told ThinkProgress that because she doesn’t have a car, she has to pay someone to drive her if she wants to leave her immediate part of town. “I stay home a lot. Let’s put it that way,” she said. Although she plans on voting in November, she said she would have preferred having the option to vote early. “Sometimes you forget on the day or you’re busy,” she said. “This way when you’re thinking about it you can get it done.”

Native American voting rights group Four Directions has been fighting since 2002 to give Indians the same voting opportunities as other South Dakotans. Over breakfast at the Lode Star Casino in Fort Thompson, executive director OJ Semans, his wife Barb and Buffalo County Commissioner Donita Lauder told ThinkProgress the county’s refusal to open an early voting center is an attempt to suppress Native American votes.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you’re given 46 days to vote, you are going to have more people vote than if you’re given one day,” Semans, a Rosebud Sioux, said. “[The auditor] says there’s six different ways to vote, but we don’t want six different ways. We just want what you have, which is a satellite office.”

The reservation crosses three counties, with a majority of the 2,000 Crow Creek Sioux tribal members living in Buffalo County and making up 85 percent of the county’s population. Twenty-six miles east, the 14 people who live in Gann Valley form the smallest county seat in the country — and Semans said last time he checked, someone had crossed off 14 on the population sign and wrote 11 in marker.

Get the Story:
How A South Dakota County Is Suppressing The Native American Vote (Think Progress 10/24)

Join the Conversation