A state panel declined Wednesday to go on record as supporting a plan to set up satellite voter registration and absentee voting offices on three American Indian reservations in South Dakota. The State Election Board voted 4-3 against a plan to support the satellite voting stations after some members said the state first must consult a federal agency to find out whether federal funds can legally be used for the stations. Secretary of State Jason Gant will send a formal request asking the U.S. Election Assistance Commission whether funds South Dakota received from the Help America Vote Act of 2002 can be used for the three stations. Three Indian tribes and a voting-rights group have asked South Dakota to help set up satellite voter registration and absentee voting offices for tribal members who live far from county courthouses. The state is being asked to use federal money to help operate satellite stations at Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation, at Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and at Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
O.J. Semans with Four Directions, Inc., a voting advocacy group located on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, said the satellite offices could increase Native American turnout in elections. The three offices would be located in predominantly Native American towns located long distances from courthouses located in county seats.
“Equality is part of our democracy and so is voting,” said Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Fort Thompson is 25 miles from the Buffalo County courthouse in Gann Valley, Wanblee is 27 miles from the Jackson County courthouse in Kadoka, and Eagle Butte is 54 miles from the Dewey County courthouse in Timber Lake.
At issue is whether a Native American community is eligible for the federal money if it is located in a county with a courthouse. Pine Ridge Village on the Pine Ridge Reservation and Rosebud Village on the Rosebud Reservation have had federal funding for satellite offices. Both are in unincorporated counties without courthouses that contract with adjoining counties for election services.