Indian voting centers not approved by state elections board

Jul. 31, 2013

Jonathan Ellis Argus

The South Dakota Board of Elections on Wednesday declined to endorse a proposal from an advocacy group that called for using federal funds to establish satellite voting centers in three predominantly Native American towns.

Four Directions Inc. of Mission requested that the board endorse its plan to use money from the Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed after the contentious 2000 presidential election to modernize voting procedures and administration. The state has about $9 million remaining in HAVA funds, and for less than $50,000 an election, HAVA funds could be used to establish satellite voting centers in Wanblee, Eagle Butte and Fort Thompson.

All three towns have larger populations than their respective county seats. Fort Thompson, for example, has a population of 1,375 people, while the county seat of Buffalo County, Gann Valley, has a population of 14. County seats, however, are the only places where people can cast in-person absentee ballots.

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

The proposal also had the backing of the county governments as well as three tribes, the Cheyenne River, Crow Creek and Oglala Sioux tribes. OJ Semans, the executive director of Four Directions, and spokesman Bret Healy told the board that they think Secretary of State Jason Gant has the authority to use HAVA funds for the satellite offices.

“This is a very, very simple deal. You can either say yes, or either say no,” Semans told the seven-member board, which includes Gant.

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.

Wednesday’s meeting, which took place over a teleconference, was cut short when an automated operator announced the teleconference was coming to an end. Board member Linda Lea Viken insisted that the meeting continue.

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