The Red Lake Political Education Committee (PEC) is going to have a kick-off event for absentee and early voting, a pilot project on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The event is scheduled for September 19, at 10 a.m. in front of the Tribal Headquarters in Red Lake.
The Minnesota legislature approved no-excuse absentee voting in 2013. However, Red Lake residents can't readily access the service. To do so, some tribal members would have to travel a two-hour plus round-trip to Bemidji, the Beltrami County seat.
Now, Minnesotans may start voting September 19. Under a new state law, anyone — not just people who will be away from home on election day — can vote early.
What is really different however is a no-excuse absentee-voting satellite office will be housed at Red Lake. According to Beltrami County Commissioner and PEC co-chair Tim Sumner, a meeting of officials was held in July encouraging the county auditor to set up another office for voting in Red Lake. "This is an excellent example of collaboration between state, county and tribal governments," noted Sumner.
PEC Co-chair Michelle Pacquin-Johnson, met with the county to decide about location, staffing and more. “Tribal members have been election judges for years, so we are experienced. We do know we’ll have a dedicated computer line that communicates with Minnesota’s voting system, so once someone has cast a ballot, this is recorded with the state.”
Votes will be accepted during regular business hours; state law also requires elections offices to be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Saturday before an election and until 5 p.m. the day before the election. This will apply to the Red Lake office as well.
The Role of "Four Directions"
"I am ecstatic about recent developments in Minnesota," said Bret Healy of Four Directions a voting-rights group.
What makes Minnesota stand out was that state and county officials maintained communications with the tribes, never shutting the door on the process. Ultimately the counties of Becker and Mahnomen (White Earth), Cass and Itasca (Leech Lake), and Beltrami (Red Lake) voluntarily agreed to place satellite offices on the three tribal nations. The counties signed onto what we consider the gold standard of equality and placed the offices within the tribal headquarters. The secretary of state was supportive, helping with technical issues when necessary. This was a great moment for Indian country.
The Minnesota process couldn’t have been more different from Four Directions’ journey through South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. In each of these states, counties dug in, claiming they didn’t have office space, funding, or additional personnel needed to run reservation polling places—and by the way, they couldn’t hire Indians to help because “we don’t know them."
"The idea for the satellite office originated with a request from Red Lake’s tribal council," said Healy. A long-time veteran of bruising Native-vote battles, he facilitated the request and was surprised and pleased that the commission’s discussion quickly took a positive turn. Four Directions donors have provided a $2,000 check for the office’s first-year expenses.
The polling place is among several new tribe-county co-operative efforts. Others include identifying reservation foster homes and re-opening a state welfare office via teleconferencing in Red Lake.
Visit the Secretary of State's website for more information on Absentee Voting.