Secretary of State Jason Gant appears to be getting the message that discrimination isn't cool. After the rejection of his Indian voter-suppression bill in committee last month and blowback from an initial Help America Vote Act state plan draft that blatantly ignored calls for improved American Indian access to early voting, Secretary Gant is circulating a new HAVA draft plan that includes provisions to support Indian voters.
The big addition is in Section 12, which originally stopped with the line, "The State anticipates no major changes to its implementation of HAVA." The new February draft adds, "...except that Title II Section 251 funds may now be used for additional in-person satellite absentee voting locations provided they meet the criteria set out in this plan."
The criteria for satellite early-voting stations are those proposed by Indian advocacy group Four Directions in December. If voters in a precinct, township, or other jurisdiction are 50% less likely to have cars, 50% more likely to live in poverty, and 50% farther from the county seat than the rest of their county residents, their county commission may use HAVA funds to set up a satellite early-voting station in their jurisdiction. The draft pre-approves Buffalo, Dewey, and Jackson counties for this HAVA spending.
To approve HAVA funds for voter-access projects, the original draft created a HAVA Grant Board that had no members of tribal communities. The revised draft replaces one of two representatives of disabled voters with a representative from the Department of Tribal Relations. Keep an asterisk by this proposal: that's still a flunky of the Governor and not necessarily someone straight from the tribes. But as gravy, the new draft specifies that the HAVA Grant Board will be subject to open meetings laws.
Bret Healy of Four Directions says he's headed into the HAVA task force's February 26 meeting with renewed cautious optimism. Four Directions has had to fight far harder than it should have to get the Secretary of State to use Help America Vote funds to help American Indians vote, but South Dakota now seems poised to do the right thing and give our Native neighbors the same easy access to early voting that the rest of us enjoy.