Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch — the chief elections official for Montana — announced on Monday that she is directing all Montana counties with American Indian reservations to work with Tribal Governments to establish satellite election offices to increase access to voting and registration if required under the Federal Voting Rights Act. The directive builds on similar guidance issue by McCulloch in 2014. In a press release, McCulloch said, “I will continue to fight for access for American Indians and all eligible voters, as I have done for my entire career. Our vote is our voice and we need to work together to ensure equal access to the election process for all citizens, and especially those with a history of being denied equal access, such as our Tribal nations.”
Most reservations in Montana have polling places for election day, but satellite offices offer the additional services that are normally only available at the county elections office—namely, late registration and in-person absentee voting– which are available in the 29 days preceding the election.
The directive follows a period of outreach to Tribal presidents and chairmen and county election administrators conducted by the Secretary over the last three weeks, and incorporates feedback that she received from them. They were asked to describe their assessment and opinions as to the needs of Indian voters and the logistical challenges of setting up satellite offices.
The Voting Rights Act is a federal law that requires actions to increase voting access for groups that have a demonstrated history of being discriminated against. Under the directive, counties will be required to conduct an analysis as to whether a satellite office is needed to provide the required access that Tribes are entitled to under the Voting Rights Act.