Jackson County is spending one and a half million of your tax dollars (not their local dollars, but yours, South Dakotans!) to keep Lakota people in Wanblee and other Indian communities from enjoying similar access to early voting as white folks near Kadoka enjoy. Dennis Olson, chairman of the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance that is footing the bill for Jackson County’s racist resistance, calls the Lakota lawsuit for a satellite early voting center “frivolous” and “just one of those things you have to put up with.”
Don’t tell O.J. Semans that fighting for Indian voting rights is frivolous. Semans, the executive director of Indian voting rights advocacy group Four Directions, takes issue with Olson’s seeming disdain for Indian voting rights in a letter to the SDPAA board of directors:
I find your comments to be insulting to me and the Native American Indian Plaintiffs in Poor Bear vs Jackson County who had the courage to stand up and demand equality when participating in what is considered the backbone of our democracy “VOTING” [O.J. Semans, letter to Dennis Olson, chairman, South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance, 2015.08.16].
Semans says the frivolity is all on the defense:
If anything is frivolous, it is your organization’s defense of discriminatory actions by Jackson County whose sole purpose appears to keep Native voters living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from voting and participating in the politicial process equally.
You and the Board of Directors of the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance have an opportunity to correct your poor oversight of the attorneys defending Jackson County. Please take a few moments to educate yourself on the actions by Jackson County and your attorneys. Read Judge Schreier’s order dated May 1, 2015. Read the minutes from the June 15, 2015 South Dakota Board of Elections outlining how funding is available for a satellite office in Wanblee. Lastly, I encourage you to learn more about this case before so carelessly suggesting that the Native American plaintiffs are pursuing a frivolous lawsuit that is wasting taxpayer dollars. Instead, it is quite clear that your organization simply will not follow prudent risk management by asking tougher questions of the attorneys involved [than] just where to send them their money [Semans, 2015.08.16].
Looking at this matter strictly from beneath a green eyeshade, the Public Assurance Alliance should see that Jackson County and other jurisdictions with Indian populations experiencing economic and geographic barriers to voting have two options:
- Spend maybe $10,000 of federal Help America Vote Act money to set up a satellite early voting station for your remote Native communities, or
- Spend $1.5 million of county tax dollars losing an Indian voting rights lawsuit, and then spend $10,000 in federal HAVA money to fulfill a judge’s order to set up a satellite early voting center.
As usual, doing what’s right in the first place is the cheaper option. SDPAA, cut your losses—er, our losses! Tell Jackson County to send its lawyers home and surrender!