For the first time, the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s office has interjected itself into the disputes counties are having with the Native American community over satellite voting centers; where groups are asking for centers to be set up so they don’t have to travel to the county seat to vote early as in every other other county;
After the election, the county filed a motion asking Judge Karen Schreier to toss the case, but the Department of Justice has asked her not to.
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.”
In addition to the three methods of absentee voting available in South Dakota, each Plaintiff can also vote on Election Day at their local precinct polling place, which includes a polling place at the precise location Plaintiffs are suing for an absentee voting site – Wanblee,” the lawyers wrote.
The lawsuit should be dismissed, the lawyers wrote, because it contains no proof that the decision not to open an early voting center disenfranchised Native Americans, a protected class under the Voting Rights Act.
(And before it’s mentioned, yes I know it’s technically not early voting but in-person absentee. I’m just using the slang.)
US Attorney Brendan Johnson had remained silent in other cases that had come up, so it’s unclear what triggered this action by his office. Unless he’s going to run for something himself in 2016.
Early Satellite voting centers remain controversial, as most counties don’t do them. They’re more of a hands-on walk through of the absentee voting process using paid staff. They don’t necessarily use county employees, but they can. Either way, those wanting them typically sue because they want federal HAVA (Help America Vote Act) funds to pay for them.
As noted by the 2012 article linked above, centers aren’t usually buzzing hubs of activity:
Gant and Ganje arranged for a primary election voting center in Pine Ridge Village staffed by two Fall River County employees who drove 64 miles each way each day. Turnout was low, with only 46 voters showing up over the 31 actual days of voting.
Two questions – Should counties with a significant Native American presence get extra assistance with voting that isn’t provided in other counties?
And does U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson’s weighing in on the issue signal that he’s gearing up for something more political in the near future?