The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) task force may yet do the right thing for South Dakota's Indian voters. Last week Secretary of State Jason Gant released a draft HAVA state plan that ignored concerns raised about voting access for Indian voters in remote, economically disadvantaged Native communities. At last Wednesday's task force meeting, advocates for Indian voting rights were able to get those concerns back on the table.
O.J. Semans of Indian voting rights advocacy group Four Directions tells me that the task force added "economic disadvantage" to the list of voting access issues the state will try to tackle with HAVA funds. The task force revised the composition of a proposed HAVA Grant Board by replacing one of the proposed two representatives of the disabled community with a representative from the state tribal relations office.
Most importantly, the task force is considering two additions to the HAVA state plan to make funds available for satellite early voting stations. Under one proposal, the HAVA state plan would pre-approve Dewey, Jackson, and Buffalo counties—all with large Indian communities long drives from their county courthouses—to receive HAVA funds to set up satellite stations nearer the Indian centers of population where voters could walk in and cast ballots during the standard 46 days before an election. The alternative proposal would require all counties but Shannon and Todd—counties with large Lakota populations and no courthouse—to apply for HAVA grants. The state would provide HAVA support for satellite early voting centers based on the criteria proposed by Four Directions.
Secretary Gant appears to be clinging to the notion (hope?) that it might not be legal for him to use Help America Vote Act money to help American Indians vote. David Montgomery reports that Gant says we still need a ruling from the hamstrung Election Assistance Commission. Gant warns that if the defunct EAC gets its funct back and rules early voting centers are not a proper use of HAVA funds, counties would have to pay back grants for such activities.
Semans reports that three Democratic legislators—Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell, Rep. Karen Soli, and Rep. Troy Heinert—attended the HAVA task force meeting to show their support for Four Directions. We Democrats don't mind being the only folks fighting for Indian voting rights, but we'd be happier if everyone supported our Lakota neighbors' right to vote.
The HAVA task force meets one last time on February 26, then kicks the plan up the Board of Elections, which, duly upbraided by the killing of its oppressive Senate Bill 33, had better have its head screwed back on straight and vote to fund the satellite early voting stations at its March 17 meeting.