Secretary of State Jason Gant has gotten three full days of attention in South Dakota's largest newspaper for putting into effect a first-in-the-nation technological advancement that will help overseas military personnel more easily register to vote and secure absentee ballots. Plus, the Dakota Republican Press Release Online Depository gives its typical blippy treatment to the old boss' new accomplishment.
And it appears that Jason Gant and his staff do indeed deserve kudos for taking a year and a $680,000 Federal Voting Assistance Program grant to create a system that allows service members to take a digital photo of their military ID card and use that image to register to vote or to create a ballot online that can then be printed and submitted just like any other absentee ballot. The program is a good idea, even if its acronym-like moniker, iOASIS, isn't any kind of actual abbreviation for its full name, Innovative Overseas Absentee-Balloting System.
Gant is right (there's a surprising series of words, particularly for this blog) to express self-satisfaction when he says:
I am proud to play a part in correcting the injustice that servicemen and women experience in their ballots not being counted. They deserve the same opportunity that everyone else has. They risk their lives defending our right to vote. We need to defend theirs [Jason Gant, "South Dakota Secretary of State Secures Technology to Improve Military Voting," Press Release, 2013.12.02
But let's not allow one parting gift from the self-imposed (self-deposed?) lame duck Secretary of State overshadow the fact that Jason Gant has a long history of disenfranchisement, incompetence, hyper-partisanship, and questionable ethics as South Dakota's chief elections officer. Though it may be tempting to combine our "South Dakota nice" and this stars-and-stripes accomplishment to gloss over that history, it should remain crystal clear: Jason Gant has been a bad Secretary of State whom even his fellow Republicans are glad to see make history as South Dakota's only first-term Secretary of State to not seek re-election.
The August 11 editorial in the same paper that's now all over the military voting upgrade provides a more succinct reminder of Gant's failures than I can politely manage:
[Gant's] latest blunder—in effect denying an extension of voters' rights in the reservation communities of Wanblee, Eagle Butte and Fort Thompson—continues a pattern of conduct that has damaged the reputation of the office to which voters elected him overwhelmingly.
Let the record show that Gant, in his short time in office, has:
— Hired noted political operator and ultra-conservative blogger Pat Powers, allowing him to continue to run his consulting business. Powers, finally, was forced to resign—but not because Gant acknowledged anything wrong with the practice.
— Endorsed Rep. Val Rausch in a primary election for a Senate seat and then claimed to see nothing wrong with such actions. Previous secretaries of state were widely known for bringing a neutral approach to that important constitutional office.
— Instituted a flawed process of campaign finance reporting that favored some candidates over others, slowed the system for public disclosure and hindered the public's ability to examine the influence of special interests in local races.
— Applied election laws unequally to Democrats and Republicans, favoring the latter and even, in one case, allowing one GOP legislative candidate—Brian Gosch of Rapid City—to notarize his own petitions [editorial, "Gant Trashes Trust Placed by Voters," That Sioux Falls Paper, 2013.08.11]
Weigh the iOASIS program—and even the other accomplishments Gant cited when he announced his decision not to seek re-election—against that list, and there's no way to conclude that a few tech-savvy good deeds balance out a tenure full of fundamental misdeeds.
Maybe I shouldn't imply that the mainstream media are giving too much attention to the military voting story. After all, when it comes to Jason Gant, being able to write the headline "Secretary of State Does Good Job" really is a big news event.