Native Voting Rights in South Dakota—We Do the Math
South Dakota’s Help America Vote Act Grant Board has approved funding for Indian-reservation satellite-voting centers for the 2018 elections. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs created the bipartisan board in 2015. It distributes federal HAVA money to counties that use it for maintaining voting machines and other election-related expenses. Krebs praised board members for “their dedication to improving ballot access and keeping our county election equipment current.”
Dewey and Jackson counties will open one satellite polling place each on the Cheyenne River and northeastern Pine Ridge reservations. Leading up to the primary and general elections, the offices will provide nine of the state’s 46 days of late registration and in-person absentee voting, for just under one-fifth of the time off-reservation voters receive.
Buffalo County will open an office on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation for nine days, but prior to the general election only, for a total of one-tenth other South Dakotans’ access. Crow Creek’s chairman, Brandon Sazue, emphasized the inequality for his 1,400-member tribe: “It’s well established that our people do not have vehicles and gas money for the 50-mile round trip to register or early vote in the Buffalo County seat, Gann Valley—which has a population of about a dozen, by the way.”
“Aren’t we are all created equal?” Sazue continued, in a reference to the U.S. Declaration of Independence. “We at Crow Creek are still fighting for that. This struggle is all too familiar for us. We want equal rights, not just a little more rights.”
Krebs said county commissions decide what they want to offer, and the HAVA board acts on their requests for funding. At publication time, email and phone efforts to reach Buffalo County commissioners for a comment on their decision-making process had proven unsuccessful. The commissioners “do not have offices,” said an unidentified woman who answered a phone number on the county’s website; she hung up abruptly when she learned the call was from a representative of the media.
Dewey, Jackson and Buffalo counties received satellite-office funding because they met HAVA board criteria, said Krebs: 50 percent or more of their population lives below the poverty line and resides, on average, 50 percent farther from the county seat or other voting locations than other county inhabitants. As reported in ICMN, the three counties first planned satellite offices after a 2013 tribal civil-rights complaint; Jackson and Buffalo also faced federal voting-rights lawsuits.
Three more South Dakota counties provide satellite voting with HAVA support. Tripp County staffs a Rosebud Indian Reservation office for nine days prior to primaries and general elections. In 2012, a federal judge ordered Fall River and Oglala Lakota counties to provide satellite services for western and southern Pine Ridge, which they agreed to do through 2018. It is the only reservation office with 46 days of access for both primaries and general elections, Krebs noted.
What happens after 2018? “I don’t anticipate changes to the forty-six-day schedule, though by 2020 we will have used our HAVA money and will be requesting more,” said Fall River County’s head elections official Sue Ganje.