Don't let Pat Powers fool you: the dismissal of the voting rights lawsuit Brooks v. Gant yesterday was a win for Native American voters, not for South Dakota's Secretary of State. Judge Karen Schreier dismissed the lawsuit because the state has done what the American Indian plaintiffs said was the right thing to do: set up an early-voting station in Shannon County so Pine Ridge voters wouldn't have to drive all the way to the Fall River County courthouse to enjoy the same access to the polls as their mostly white neighbors.
Shannon and Todd County voters don't have a courthouse and thus lacked in-county early voting prior to 2012. Those conditions provoked the lawsuit. Gant used federal Help America Vote Act money to set up satellite voting stations in both counties in 2012. According to Jonathan Ellis, Gant has also committed to maintaining the satellite voting station in Shannon County for the next three statewide elections.
The dismissal of Brooks v. Gant certainly won't help the Secretary has he battles a new voting rights complaint. Yesterday Four Directions filed a complaint with the Justice Department's civil rights division over Secretary Gant's specious evasion on using HAVA funds to establish satellite voting centers in the reservation communities of Fort Thompson, Wanblee, and Eagle Butte. The only thing distinguishing the situation in those communities from Shannon and Todd counties is the existence of a courthouse in Buffalo, Jackson, and Dewey counties. But the practical issues on access are the same: a protected class of voters who suffer institutional racism and economic distress find themselves more geographically isolated from voting opportunities than their white fellow citizens.
Shannon and Todd counties provided clear cases where Secretary Gant had the authority to use HAVA funds for their intended purpose of creating more polling places and expanding poll access for American Indians. So do the counties where Four Directions would like support from HAVA funds. The only reason Secretary Gant has to say no to more early voting stations on the reservation is his fear that more Indian voters will vote against him and his fellow Republicans.