South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said he’s forming a task force to address whether federal Help America Vote Act funds can be used to open satellite registration and early voting offices on three Native American reservations. But the head of a Mission-based voting rights group is calling Gant’s move a delay tactic. “They don’t need a committee,” O.J. Semans, executive director of Four Directions Inc., said Tuesday. “He has the authority to do it.” The 2002 Help America Vote Act was passed by Congress to address voter access issues identified during the 2000 election. Poverty on South Dakota’s reservations and the long distances to polling places hamper Native Americans’ ability to vote, Semans said. Semans has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the matter, and the American Civil Liberties Union and the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association support the request.
Gant made his announcement in a release sent about 9:30 p.m. Monday. His staff on Tuesday morning said the secretary was unavailable, and Gant did not immediately return a telephone message or email seeking comment.
On July 31, Four Directions asked the South Dakota Board of Elections to use HAVA funds to establish satellite voter registration and early voting offices in Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation, Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation and Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
All three predominantly Native American towns are far away from the courthouses in county seats where in-person absentee voting takes place.