While I was out and about on my blog tour last August, I learned that Jackson County was balking at a federally funded, state-approved plan to open a satellite early-voting center in Wanblee, a mostly Lakota community 28 miles from the courthouse in mostly white Kadoka. Four Pine Ridge Reservation voters sued the county in September for equal early-voting access.
That lawsuit prompted Jackson County to open a satellite voting station in Wanblee on October 20, giving them eleven days to vote early out of the 46 days before the election that early voting opens in South Dakota. Jackson County thinks that action makes everything hunky-dory and wants the lawsuit dismissed. Luckily, our U.S. Attorney, Brendan Johnson, disagrees:
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says the county’s refusal to open a satellite office – the cost for which can be reimbursed through Help America Vote Act funds – was not a reasonable response, given the state’s history with the Native American community.
“Let’s be clear, South Dakota does not have a proud history when it comes to providing Native Americans an equal right to vote,” Johnson said. “We should be doing more, not less, to protect the right of every South Dakotan to vote in our elections” [John Hult, "U.S. Attorney Scolds County on Voting Law," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.02].
U.S. Attorney Johnson's Department of Justice has filed a brief arguing that Judge Karen Schreier should not grant Jackson County's motion to dismiss:
The Department of Justice response says the issues raised in the lawsuit are clearly within the scope of the act, however, and deserve a fair hearing.
“Courts have consistently interpreted Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act) to cover all manner of voting procedures,” the DOJ brief says. “In particular, courts have repeatedly entertained Section 2 claims that involve access to polling places, to voter registration, and to opportunities for absentee and early voting” [Hult, 2015.01.02].
Our new Republican Secretary of State, like the last one, thinks satellite early-voting centers in Wanblee and other isolated American Indian communities are unnecessary. We'll see if their white-privileged thinking prevails with Judge Karen Schreier.
Update 09:44 CST: The Republican spin machine, which is still sore that it didn't get to run all of its pre-packaged propaganda against Brendan Johnson in the 2014 election, suggests that the only reason Johnson would "interject" the DOJ in the Jackson County voting rights dispute is to position himself to run for office in 2016... because, you know, it's inconceivable to Republicans that Lakota equality and the Voting Rights Act would motivate men of good conscience to act.