Stephanie Woodard: Anti-Indian voting rights measure killed

South Dakota lawmakers killed a bill that would have hindered early-voting efforts on reservations:
On January 22 in Pierre, a state senate committee was considering a bill to prevent non-governmental groups from helping cash-strapped counties afford early-voting offices on Indian reservations. The proposed ban was the brainchild of South Dakota’s secretary of state and top elections officer Jason Gant.

Part of the state’s Republican administration, Gant has also opposed using Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to assist Native voting and fought (unsuccessfully) in federal court to curtail early voting on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Testifying before the committee, Gant called the donations part of a “slippery slope.” He raised the specter of “a billionaire coming from New York” and chucking money and influence around the state. Skeptical committee members got Gant to admit that the only non-governmental entity helping fund precincts of any kind is a small in-state Native voting-rights nonprofit called Four Directions. Gant also acknowledged that without Four Directions donations, “I wouldn’t know what the future would hold for those places.”

Four Directions head OJ Semans, who is Rosebud Sioux, testified against the bill, calling voting “the bedrock of our democracy” and pointing to the value of participation. Said Semans: “To improve their social and economic conditions, tribes and tribal members have to participate in the electoral process.”

Semans added that approving the bill and cutting off the early-voting offices would tell Native citizens, “We don’t want you to participate.”

Get the Story:
Stephanie Woodard: Elephants, Donkeys, Billionaires—and Another Stunning Native Vote Win (Indian Country Today 2/5)

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