An inability to agree to the wording of a joint news release has stalled negotiations between the Four Directions voting rights advocacy group and the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance, the insurance cooperative that provides liability coverage to local government entities in the state. Four Directions executive director O.J. Semans now plans a return to the court of public opinion to try to persuade the SDPAA to stop trying to recover $6,300 in court costs from 25 mostly low-income plaintiffs from the Oglala Sioux Tribe who filed a federal lawsuit against the state and Shannon and Fall River counties to get early voting provisions established on the tribe’s Pine Ridge Reservation. But SDPAA executive director Judy Payne said she thinks while an initial agreement could not be reached, talks between the insurance cooperative and Four Directions are ongoing. “We’re still waiting to hear from their attorney,” she said Thursday. SDPAA lawyer Sara Frankenstein and Four Directions lawyer Steven Sandven are the principals exchanging positions on a joint press statement, “as it should be,” Payne said.
Because of the looming threat of the SDPAA to pursue costs from plaintiffs if a negotiated settlement can’t be reached, Semans characterized the insurance cooperative — and by extension the member governments it represents — as actively opposed to minority voting rights.
Semans said Thursday “I was saddened in the way they wouldn’t meet halfway. What they have done now is clearly indicating what I have been saying from the very beginning. They know how poor the plaintiffs are. They are not going to receive anything. This is purely an intimidation tactic, used not only to scare the 25 plaintiffs now but to clearly send a message to any minority in South Dakota seeking civil rights that they are going to pay.”