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Senate Committee Kills SB 33; Gant Loses Bid to Suppress Indian Vote

The Senate Local Government committee showed some practical sense this morning and killed Senate Bill 33, Secretary of State Jason Gant's latest Indian-voter-suppression trick.

In remarkably vague testimony relying mostly on general xenophobia, Secretary Gant testified that the intent of Senate Bill 33 was to ensure that outside money can't influence or buy our election activities. Secretary Gant worried that letting anyone other than government fund the operation of voting stations would allow outside groups to influence turnout and vote results.

Sioux Falls Senators Deb Soholt (R-14) and Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell (D-15) immediately asked Secretary Gant for specific examples of the improper influence that Senate Bill 33 would target. Secretary Gant refused to name any specific, extant threat of improper influence. Senator Soholt asked twice for Secretary Gant to explain how place currently served by satellite voting stations funded by outside parties would maintain voting access if SB 33 passed. Twice Secretary Gant dodged the question, first replying, "I wouldn't know what the future is going to hold in those areas," then scrambling for cover under his imagined red herring that a "New York billionaire" would donate money to a county to run its elections but only on the condition that the county place extra voting stations in the east side of the county to bias the vote.

Secretary Gant's real target, Indian vote advocates Four Directions, was there to talk specifics. Four Directions exec O.J. Semans testified that his group is the only group currently engaging in the election funding that Sec. Gant wants to ban with SB 33. Semans said that his group's efforts have increased voter turnout in Shannon and Todd counties by 130% since 2004. He said that thanks to their funding a satellite voting station in Fort Thompson in the 2012 election, Buffalo County had the second-highest voter turnout in South Dakota.

Semans said it's hard to see how increasing voter turnout influences elections negatively. He said that helping tribes participate in elections is crucial to improving their social condition. Senate Bill 33, said Semans, is an effort to keep tribes out of the political process and thus leave them stuck in their poor status quo conditions. That kind of voter suppression, said Semans, would only make tribal-White relations in South Dakota worse.

Senator Soholt got Semans to admit that Four Directions is funded primarily by out-of-state tribes. Semans noted that South Dakota's tribes are among the poorest in the nation and thus can't afford to fund such voting centers.

Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-18/Yankton) turned to an issue that alarmed her Republican sensibilities: local control. Right now, counties and school districts are free to accept or reject offers of financial assistance to set up voting centers. Senate Bill 33 would take away that local control; Secretary Gant and the Legislature would make that decision for them, in the negative.

Senator Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City) finally brought up the "elephant in the room": Indians tend to vote Democratic, and increasing Indian turnout increases the Indian vote. To keep from sounding like a partisan racist, Senator Tieszen proposed a hypothetical: suppose the national Republican Party or some surrogate thereof decided to counter Four Directions' efforts by funding more voting centers on the street corners of his very Republican district in Rapid City. Senator Tieszen suggested that political tactic would be a logical progression and one that he apparently finds objectionable.

Senator Buhl O'Donnell rejected the notion of unfairness in outside funding for voting centers. She said the one example on the table of such efforts has local officials identifying voting access problems. Local officials can't get the state to help, so they choose to accept help from a willing third party. They use this outside money to provide satelite voting stations that confer no special privileges but simply give their local constituents the same access to voting that everyone else in the state gets. Senate Bill 33, said Buhl O'Donnell, puts tribal communities in a tight spot.

Senator Hunhoff generously acknowledged both Tieszen's and Buhl O'Donnell's points as reasonable, but turned to reality versus hypotheticals. The two fundamental issues for Hunhoff are local control and voting access. Right now, Four Directions helps provide voting access. Local governments can choose to accept that help. Senator Hunhoff sees no reason to monkey with that formula.

Senator Holien moved to kill Senate Bill 33 by sending it to the non-existent 41st day of the Legislative calendar (you know you're from South Dakota when "41st day" means something other than Noah putting away his umbrella). Senators Hunhoff, Soholt, Buhl O'Donnell, and Chairman Mark Kirkeby (R-35/Rapid City) joined Holien in killing SB 33; only Senator Tieszen voted for it. (Senator Dan Lederman missed the fun.)

The Senate Local Government committee took a welcome stand for American Indian voting access this morning. They rejected a thinly cloaked voter-suppression effort by Secretary Gant. Instead of buying into manufactured fear of outsiders and hypothetical slippery slopes, they focused on the practical good of helping South Dakotans vote.


  1. PlanningStudent 2014.01.22

    Why do you omit that this wasn't a Secretary of State bill but a Board of Elections bill. The bi-partisan board voted unanimously to bring this legislation. A group of Republicans and Democrats in the business of elections voted for this. The same group who is working to open the door to use federal funds at the request of Four Directions. Do you think Richard Casey and Linda Lea Viken voted to suppress the Indian vote?

  2. Jerry 2014.01.22

    I have personally always thought that Craig Tieszen was a snake in the grass, and as always, I find myself to be correct. His actions while he was a cop in Rapid City, spoke all the truth you want to his convictions of not being a player of trust to the Native people. Custer lives through Tieszen and you just know that he would love to be more than the senator from red-34.

  3. oldguy 2014.01.22

    Jerry how do you Tiezen would like to be more than a state senator?

  4. Jerry 2014.01.22

    There is always a reason that jerks like Tieszen show their fannies. If they are not interested in moving up the ladder, they tend to shut the hell up and wear brown and keep marching in lock step. I personally do not have any first hand knowledge of what this man has on his mind, but my gut tells me there is always some reason for actions.

  5. PlanningStudent 2014.01.22

    Mr. Heidelberger,

    Still looking for an answer... Do you also think that Richard Casey, Linda Lea Viken and the rest of the Board of Elections were attempting to suppress Native American vote? If so, say so. If not, explain your cognitive dissonance.

  6. Monty 2014.01.22

    Planning Student: the "official" BOE minutes on the SOS site from January 9 and posted as of Monday, January 20, reported the vote to send 33 to the Legislature as unanimous. Today, the minutes say Viken voted Nay. The minutes do not say they were corrected or altered. Check the vote again. Maybe further "official" minutes will be coming.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.01.22

    I'll say so. If I understand the minutes right, the final vote on the amended version of SB 33 was 6–1, Viken nay. This move does appear to be an odd bit of cognitive dissonance with what sounded last month like their openness to Four Directions' proposal for using the HAVA funds. I do agree that anyone who voted for SB 33 without at least promising to replace those funds with HAVA dollars was voting to suppress Indian votes.

  8. Roger Cornelius 2014.01.22

    SB33 appeared to heading for likely passage, I thought it would pass.

    It is so nice to be wrong.

  9. grudznick 2014.01.22

    Young Mr. Gant is a bit of a hobbled duck and most of his bills will probably get tabled.

  10. PlanningStudent 2014.01.22

    My apologies.. I clearly errored by including Linda Lea and claiming the vote was unanimous. Still bi-partisan and not Gant's bill. Still not intended to suppress the vote. Still meant to prevent the manipulation of voter turnout. Still, this loophole will be abused by people of all political persuasions...

  11. Dave 2014.01.22

    Just listened to the committee meeting online, and was struck by Mr. Semans' comments when talking about the outcome after Four Directions provided its help -- how the group helped increase voter turnout in Shannon and Todd counties by 130 percent compared to 2004, and how Buffalo County, in fact, had one of the highest voter turnouts, or perhaps highest percentage increase in voter turnout (my interpretation of those comments are a bit cloudy, sorry) in the entire state. "I never thought that providing equal access to Native Americans was considered influencing an election," Semans said. "I consider equal access to the ballot box the backbone of our democracy." He also talked about how Native Americans, if they ever want to make any progress in societal or economic development, must have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
    Gant pretty much sounded like the dumb, oversized, electoral playground bully that he is compared to the intelligent testimony provided by Semans. It's sad when an group like Four Directions shows more concern (and actually backs it up with credible results) than our own state government when it comes to running fair elections. Wonder if we could talk Semans into running for Secretary of State??

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.01.26

    Dave highlights a good response to Planning Student's contention that SB 33 was about fighting improper influence of elections. If I had a million bucks to sway an election, I would think I could have more impact in getting people to vote for my gal or deter people from voting for the other gal with some good old TV ads or postcards or get-out-the-vote activities.

    If Four Directions is influencing the vote, they are doing it in a perfectly Constitutional way. They are providing equal access to voting. They are putting voting stations in uniquely isolated and underserved communities. If we are making this decision from behind the "veil of ignorance" (pretending that we don't know if our personal agendae and political allies will be favored or harmed by the rules we make), we have no reason to say, "No, let's leave it difficult for certain isolated communities to vote. Let's not allow local governments to accept funding from outside sources to provide our citizens more places to vote closer to their homes."

    Gant tried to spin a counterfactual that a private donor might condition his contribution on placing voting stations only in certain areas. That's a point that local governments, the secretary of state, and the Department of Justice could still govern. If a private donor is clearly trying to offer his preferred demographic inordinate voting convenience, we can say, "No way."

    Review the criteria Four Directions proposed at the December HAVA task force meeting:

    "We propose that if for all three factors if American Indians living on Reservations are 50% less likely to have a motor vehicle than Anglos, have 50% more individuals below the poverty line than Anglos, and live, on average, 50% farther than Anglos from the existing county seat, then HAVA funds should be made available to fund a satellite office for the full election period and be open for the same hours and dates as the county courthouse in that county [Bret Healy, Four Directions memo to Secretary of State Jason Gant and 2014 HAVA Task Force, 2013.12.17]."

    We could strike "American Indians" and "Anglos" and apply those criteria to any population in any community suffering such disadvantages in voting access. Those criteria would prohibit the sort of absurd counterfactual Sen. Tieszen offered of some wealthy conservative group saturating his heavily Republican District 34 in Rapid City with polling stations.

  13. Kevin Woster 2014.01.27

    Cory: Do you feel comfortable implying that Craig Tieszen is a racist because he raised a point that Bernie Hunhoff called reasonable?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.01.27

    I feel perfectly comfortable saying that the intent of SB 33 was to stop Four Directions from helping Indians vote. I feel perfectly comfortable saying that Senator Tieszen wants to keep Four Directions from helping more Indians who happen to be predominantly Democratic vote. I feel perfectly comfortable saying that if Bernie Hunhoff (can you provide the quote?) thinks that private funding of voting centers poses a risk negatively influencing elections, then Bernie Hunhoff is mistaken.

  15. Donald Pay 2014.01.27

    The problem is there is no accountability for state election officials. Where is the requirement that election officials continually improve voter registration and voter participation? Why does it take outside folks to figure this out? Is it because corrupt politicians get elected by skewing turnout?

    If South Dakota officials, including state legislators, were doing their jobs, rather than making excuses for their corruption, there would be no need for any outside private assistance. Free and fair elections, after all, are the single most important thing that we get from tax dollars. When there is skewed turnout due to corrupt or incompetent state and local election leadership, all of us end up with shoddy service and bad representation.

    "Four Directions" has shown the way to increase voter participation in elections. If people don't like them paying for polling places, that's fine, but then state and local officials should use the Four Directions model in all poor and rural counties in South Dakota. Stop whining, and start helping people participate fully in our democracy.

    Maybe the focus should be on why there is a

  16. Les 2014.01.31

    Kevin, throwing out the race card when it's really all about a trip to the woodshed, is where we need to stand on this matter.
    My mother taught me for a year of grade school. Before any other kid in my circle got that woodshed trip, I walked it. There was never any doubt of parity and I was held to higher standards. Jason Gant among others, needed a trip to the woodshed and still do.
    If my party cannot hold themselves to a higher standard while controlling all the cards, they have left me, not I them, as some might have you believe.

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