South Dakota's ad hoc Help America Vote Act (HAVA) task force meets tomorrow (Wednesday) at Pierre's Red Rossa (Hills Room, 10 a.m. CST). The Italian diner is an appropriate setting, as the Sage Chickens of the Board of Elections are trying to Bruschetta off South Dakota's #1 voting rights problem by Caprese Stacking the deck against Indian voters.
Secretary of State Jason Gant convened the HAVA task force last year in response to the bad publicity that arose when he obstructed and obfuscated over a proposal to use Help America Vote Act money to help Americans vote with satellite early voting stations in Fort Thompson, Wanblee, and Eagle Butte. The task force has spent much of its time (about half, estimates Bret Healy, who's been there on behalf of Four Directions) discussing these proposed voting stations and American Indian voting access. At the task force's December meeting, Bret Healy of Four Directions offered reasonable criteria and funding estimates for such voting stations. Healy's proposal received what seemed to be a favorable reception.
For tomorrow's meeting, Secretary Gant has drafted a new HAVA State Plan. In fourteen pages, the terms "American Indian," "Native American," "early voting," and "satellite" appear not once. The draft includes mention of paying for voting stations in Shannon and Todd counties—you know, the ones it took a federal lawsuit to get—but the main proposal that provoked these meetings gets no mention. The closest the draft comes to addressing other Indian voting issues is a mention of funding for Lakota language assistance.
The draft plan proposes to spend all remaining HAVA funds on "training election officials, educating voters, improving the accessibility of elections for individuals with disabilities, and making improvements to the administration of federal elections." Secretary Gant offers a laundry list of activities that jump to his mind as priorities for HAVA spending, none of which address the topic that brought the HAVA task force together in the first place:
Examples of such activities include but are not limited to:
- The cost implementing and maintaining TotalVote (Statewide Computer Registration System);
- Election night reporting;
- Applications for mobile devices;
- Secretary of State staff salaries and benefits;
- Office computers, supplies and rent;
- The use of electronic pollbooks in federal elections; and
- Programs that help improve the accuracy and efficiency of the State’s voter registration list ["Help America Vote Act Revised State Plan 2014," draft, issued by South Dakota Secretary of State, 2014.01.27].
Secretary Gant also proposes a HAVA Grant Board to help county auditors comply with HAVA:
The Secretary of State, with the approval of the State Board of Elections, will establish a HAVA Grant Board, consisting of three County Auditors (one from a large population county, one from a middle population county and one from a small population county), the Senior Elections Coordinator, and two members from the disability community. This board is responsible for developing, reviewing, and making recommendations to the Secretary of State in matters pertaining to the local government grant program [HAVA Revised State Plan 2014," draft, 2014.01.27].
If folks with canes and wheelchairs need two representatives on a HAVA grant board, our Lakota brothers and sisters need at least five. But Secretary Gant provides for no American Indian representatives on this grant board, not even an official from a county with a significant American Indian population.
Indian voting rights are the central problem in South Dakota elections. South Dakota has a history of losing court cases over diffusion and denial of Indian voting rights. If any Americans need help voting, it's South Dakota's American Indians. Yet Secretary Gant's draft HAVA plan reads as if our Lakota neighbors needed nothing more than translators to secure their equal voting rights.
Secretary Gant has told some task force members that this plan is just a draft, that it's a group effort, that there's still time to add and amend. But the fact that Gant omits from this draft any mention of the salient voting rights issue discussed by the task force makes clear he has no intention to do anything to rectify that issue.
Secretary Gant's draft Help America Vote Act plan asserts three times that "South Dakota is HAVA compliant." Yet the only concrete action he has taken to improve Indian voting rights during the term of the current HAVA task force is to advocate a state law that would eliminate funding for satellite voting stations that improve Indian voter turnout.
The actions of Secretary Gant and the Board of Elections paint a dismal picture of South Dakota's commitment to equality:
When one evaluates the actions of the South Dakota Board of Elections and the chair of that Board Secretary of State Gant toward the request for equal opportunity to vote for Native American voters, one is left to conclude they have decided to treat equal voting opportunities for Native American voters as a cancer that must be contained to just Shannon and Todd counties [Bret Healy, e-mail, 2014.01.27].
South Dakota is not just ignoring Indian voters; state officials like Jason Gant are actively opposing their equal access to the ballot. South Dakota is not complying with the Help America Vote Act. South Dakota is flouting it and trying to stop the First Americans from voting.
Indian voters, you might want to drop by Red Rossa in Pierre tomorrow morning and remind the task force why they were convened in the first place.