After months of acrimony, including legal battles and harsh words, Secretary of State Jason Gant and a group advocating for Native American voting rights have reached a tentative agreement. In a meeting Wednesday in Pierre, Gant, representatives of the nonprofit Four Directions, and a collection of county auditors and other stakeholders agreed on a framework to spend state money to open early voting places in Native American population centers. The plan could “if not double, even triple” voter participation in several Native-dominated communities, said O.J. Semans, Four Directions’ executive director. At issue are Buffalo, Dewey and Jackson counties, where Indian reservations are dozens of miles from the county courthouses, where early voting takes place. That means taking advantage of South Dakota’s weeks of early voting requires long car rides for many residents of the poorest communities in the state.
Four Directions has asked Gant to set up satellite early voting centers in those Native communities. To pay the cost, the group suggested he tap the millions of dollars of federal money given to South Dakota for voting promotion under the Help America Vote Act.
Gant previously resisted the request, saying he wasn’t sure he had the authority to spend that money on early voting centers in counties with courthouses.