Indian Voices Heard at the Polls

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Reservation voters raise concerns

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Another election and another victory for the American
Indian voting block that has been given large credit for putting another
Democrat in the U.S. House.

For the first time in decades the three seats in Congress from South Dakota
will be filled by Democrats. And for the first time, a woman (Stephanie
Herseth) was elected to the House to represent the state of South Dakota.

Herseth will fill the remainder of William Janklow's term. The June 1
special election to fill that seat was held in conjunction with the state's
primary election.

Herseth campaigned heavily on the reservations. On the Pine Ridge
Reservation alone she collected 94 percent of the vote. Her victory
reminded American Indian voters and the state of how Sen. Tim Johnson,
D-S.D. won his reelection bid in 2002. Johnson defeated John Thune, who is
running against Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D. for Daschle's senate seat.

American Indian voters across the state are mobilizing and voter
registration drives are under way. Jesse Claussen, member of the LaCreek
District Civil Rights Group and a voter registration advocate, said there
is a possibility of registering another 2,000 voters on Pine Ridge alone.
That causes both political parties to watch the reservations very closely.

The June 1 special election also had its share of allegations.

Complaints have found their way through attorneys and a nonprofit voter
rights organization to the Secretary of State and the state Attorney
General's office.

Many complaints had to do with the requirement that a picture ID be
presented in order to receive a ballot. The new law also states that
without the picture ID an affidavit can be signed.

One complaint, however, accused a poll watcher at a voting site on the Pine
Ridge Reservation of actually closing the door at exactly 7 p.m. while
people were still waiting to vote. Mark St. Pierre, executive director of
the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce witnessed the incident.

Secretary of State Chris Nelson said that was an illegal action by the poll
watcher, who wasn't identified. He added that is it not illegal for poll
watchers of either party to observe voting.

Amalia Anderson and Alyssa Burhans stated in affidavits that they were told
by a precinct representative in Porcupine that "we did not need to be
here." The two were poll watchers. They were then directed to the lobby in
a different room, approximately 50 feet from the ballot box. Both said they
questioned the move. It wasn't until an attorney for Four Directions
Foundation, a voter rights organization, intervened that the two were
allowed to view the ballot box.

Two voters who lived near the Porcupine Precinct were told they could not
vote in the Porcupine Precinct and were assigned to another precinct with a
polling location farther from their homes. Stella White Eyes stated that
she was a witness to the incident and that Jeanette Young Bear and Clement
Locke Jr. had the same complaint.

Nelson said this occurred because of the way the precinct lines were drawn.
He said it is not uncommon in the state to live closer to one polling place
and have to drive to one farther from a person's home.

"This type of complaint seems to come every election year," Nelson said. He
added that this issue is best brought up with the county commissioners. He
also said there were times when a person registered and then moved to a new
location without knowing the new location was in a different precinct.

One problem voters on reservations experience is that they vote in numerous
elections; local tribal districts, general tribal elections, county
elections, state elections and national elections. Tribal district
boundaries may be different from the county drawn precincts, which add to
the confusion.

Nelson said his office received a number of picture ID complaints from
across the state. He said some people praised the new law and said that the
ID requirement maintained the integrity of the election process.

Alton Mousseaux and White Eyes stated in separate affidavits that they
observed precinct representative Ruth Weston tell a voter that he needed a
voter ID in order to receive an affidavit. The affidavit proves where the
voter lives and is a substitute for the photo ID.

"I showed Ms. Weston a document regarding the ability to sign an affidavit
without the photo ID and she responded with 'I have been through training
and I already know all this,'" White Eyes stated. Her affidavit also stated
that the representative continued to require the photo ID to receive an
affidavit. The voter left the polls.

Mousseaux also said the poll location was changed from the Porcupine CAP
office to the Brotherhood Clinic, which, he said, caused some confusion.

Nelson said that incident was not proper. He also said that his office
received complaints about similar incidents that were resolved by his
staff.

Sheriff's vehicles from Fall River County, which deals with non-Indian
affairs on the unincorporated Shannon County, which is on the Pine Ridge
Reservation, were seen near the polling places. Although not inappropriate,
because Fall River is responsible for the election process, the presence of
law enforcement vehicles and personnel has the effect of intimidating
American Indian people, some who may have off-reservation warrants.
Witnesses said many people were seen leaving the area, rather than entering
the voting location.

Nelson said that complaints about the photo ID requirement came in from the
Standing Rock Reservation. He said no other complaints have come from other
reservations.