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More Indians Get Early-Voting Satellite Stations… But Not in Jackson County

The fight for equal voting rights for our Indian neighbors is making progress. Following the successful restoration of Indian voting rights to South Dakota's Help America Vote Act plan (over the morally indefensible objection and machinations of Republican Secretary of State Jason Gant), Buffalo and Dewey counties have agreed to establish satellite early-voting stations for Indian communities located far from their county courthouses. O.J. Semans, executive director of voting-rights organization Four Directions, tells me that just a couple weeks ago, Roberts County agreed to offer early voting at a new satellite station at Sisseton Wahpeton tribal headquarters at Old Agency, just a few miles from the courthouse in Sisseton. Dustina Gill, who ran for state legislature this spring, talked with the tribe and county and helped make that voting station happen.

In addition to Todd County, which passed a permanent resolution providing for an early-voting satellite station in 2010, we see significant gains toward providing Indian voters the same access to the ballot that we lucky white folks enjoy.

But then there's Jackson County. Jackson County is home to Wanblee, a community of hundreds of Indian voters who, if they wish to vote early, must make a good hour's round trip to the county courthouse at Kadoka. Wanblee was one of three communities where Four Directions requested and where Secretary Gant staunchly resisted funding early-voting satellite stations with HAVA money. Jackson County auditor Vicki Wilson continues to resist. Semans tells me that Auditor Wilson refuses to establish an early-voting satellite station in Wanblee for this November's election. According to Semans, Wilson and Jackson County claim that the HAVA funding mechanism remains unclear, even though the state HAVA plan makes clear to counties that they can use HAVA money for exactly this purpose of helping Indian residents cast early ballots.

O.J. Semans, executive director of Four Directions, pounds the table for Indian voting rights. Mission, South Dakota, 2014.08.18.
O.J. Semans, executive director of Four Directions, pounds the table for Indian voting rights. Mission, South Dakota, 2014.08.18.

Semans says Four Directions has attempted constructive dialogue with Jackson County for over a year. Now it may just be time to take Jackson County to court. Semans says a challenge to Jackson County's resistance to an early-voting satellite station would pass a Voting Rights Act test more easily than Brooks v. Gant, the Indian voting rights case the state lost last year. Compared to the Pine Ridge plaintiffs in Brooks v. Gant, Indian voters in Wanblee and elsewhere in Jackson County are a larger community, face a longer drive to the existing early-voting station, and face the same poverty that restricts their ability to travel to the polls.

A lawsuit to require Jackson County to offer an early-voting satellite station would go to federal court in Rapid City, where Semans said it would likely be heard by Judge Karen Schreier, who heard Brooks v. Gant. Judge Schreier ruled in favor of Indian voters in that case.

Early-voting satellite stations matter to Semans and Four Directions because they are a crucial component of voting rights equality. Four Directions' mission is to improve social and economic conditions, and the only way to do that, says Semans, is to help Indians get involved in politics. Voting and winning elections is a big part of that (and we'll never elect enough white guys to solve Indian problems). When Todd County passed its so-far unique permanent resolution establishing an early-voting satellite station, its commission consisted of three Indians and two non-Indians. Having Indians in office matters. Giving Indians the same access to the ballot matters.

But Semans notes that even the mechanism of these satellite stations provides a vital opportunity for involvement. When counties establish these stations in Indian communities, they can give Indians a chance to run these polling places. These Indian election officials work with the white officials at the courthouse. They demonstrate that Indians can run elections just as well as whites. They build trust with government officials than can translate into cooperation on other issues.

To put it in O.J. Semans's blunt terms, it's time for Jackson County to "wake up and smell the Indians." Helping Indians vote and elect leaders is good for all of Jackson County and South Dakota. It's what our laws and our commitment to democracy say we should do.


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.08.19

    Gant embarrasses SD and demeans his office by engaging in blatant, partisan voter suppression. Wilson seems to be his partner in "How to Sabotage Democracy, 101."

    I believe the class is taught by professor Karl Rove, who sits in the Koch and Koch endowed chair in the Department of Partisan Science, College of Sociopathy, University of Hyper-Corruption, Alabama campus. It is, of course, a Christian school that partners with Bob Jones University and Jerry Folwell's Liberty University.

  2. Roger Cornelius 2014.08.19

    President Clinton (Happy Birthday Brother Bill), said it a bit more eloquently than I could, in America it is easier to buy a gun than to register to vote. He might add, in America it is easier to buy a gun than to vote in Jackson County.

    Each day the November elections are drawing closer, perhaps we can find a local organization, where are you South Dakota Democratic Party, to usurp the control Gant has over Indians and his obvious attempts at vote suppression.
    Come on SDDP, where in the hell are you?

  3. jerry 2014.08.19

    It seems to me that not so long ago, Jackson County was trying to do the old back door two step regarding the "opt out" for taxes. Friends of mine pay taxes there and vote there and tell me that this "opt out" was defeated before but these guys do not seem to get the message and claim that they are bankrupt while spending moolah like drunken sailors with no regard for the voters. I hope that this lawsuit has some teeth in it so it may finally convince all of Jackson County to rid itself of these positions for life that have been running the county roughshod for decades. Maybe put some faces of color into the mix for some better work ethic.

  4. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.08.19

    Ugh. Mike I wish I hadn't clicked on your link. "Smugshot," Is correct.

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