Press "Enter" to skip to content

Semans: Public Insurer Wasting Tax Dollars Defending Discrimination Against Lakota Voters

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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!


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-08-17

    Olson must be proud of being a racist bigot. I wonder if he flies a hateful, racist Confederate flag too? Small mind there.

  2. jerry 2015-08-17

    Jackson County will spend every nickel you have to keep this going past the next election. Hawks has the Olson’s republican party spooked as they know what a knucklehead they have to go against her. Jackson County and the rest of the republicans want to make sure that whoever runs against Tehran John as an Independent or as a Democrat, will not have to worry about the Native vote. Nixon taught them the dirty tricks book well and they have used it to divide and conquer since the trickster showed them all how to do it. The judges words are like water off a duck’s back, meaningless.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-18

    Deb, I won’t go that far on Olson. For the moment, barring other foolish statements, I’m willing to believe he just hasn’t thought through the implications of the litigation or the important of Indian voting rights… which failure is a product of the white privilege of being able to drop one’s nearby courthouse to cast an early ballot any time 45 days before the election, easy voting access that Jackson County is denying its remote Indian residents.

    Jerry, I don’t discount your cynicism about the SDGOP’s commitment to expanding every margin to protect Senator Thune and Rep. Noem. They are playing power politics to the hilt. We can hope they’ll take a moral pause, but we can’t expect it.

  4. mike from iowa 2015-08-18

    Jackson Co sounds like my ex FIL of blessed memory when it came to fixing fences. Never had time to do it right ,but always made time to do it over after the cattle got out again and again.

  5. 96Tears 2015-08-18

    Somebody screwed up in the Sanford Leader story. Olson is quoted later in the news story as saying he was unaware that HAVA money was available to finance the satellite voting station, which would change his opinion on the case.

    The reporter should not have quoted him earlier in the story as calling the case “frivolous” and “just one of those things you have to put up with,” which is a phrase you hear a lot when you live in communities with significant Indian populations. Now that Mr. Olson has had time to know what he’s talking about, the reporter might want to correct a possible misperception that Mr. Olson is a racist.

  6. sheldon osborn 2015-08-18

    96 Tears,

    The Argus Leader didn’t label Mr. Olsen a racist. It quoted him and by doing so showed that he was either misled by people he had relied on or that he failed to do his job and find out that HAVA money is available for satellite voting centers in Jackson County.
    Either way the system is not working and Jackson county commissioners are using money contributed to the state-wide insurance pool by other local governments to further their own racist agenda. I hope Mr. Olsen has the fortitude to end this abuse and save the rest of us a pot full of money.

  7. leslie 2015-08-18

    Olsen has now learned the difference between saying “frivolous” as opposed to something like “without merit” to the press. However, the satellite stations have FULL MERIT.

    “misled by people he relied on” or “the reporter should not have quoted him”?? meh

  8. Douglas Wiken 2015-08-18

    A few dollars of postage makes everybody equal when it comes to voting. Request a ballot and mail it. If out- of- state groups want people in the middle of nowhere who pay no property taxes to vote, the best way is to provide postage. There is no real excuse for less than 100% voting. The real discrimination is in the document requirements that hit females particularly hard no matter what race or economic class. It is hard enough to get people to vote once let alone multiple times.

  9. Roger Cornelius 2015-08-18

    It is past time for the Oglala Sioux Tribe to reclaim Jackson County and incorporate it Oglala Lakota County.

    And in another move to increase economic development on the reservation establish a county seat on the reservation. Fall River County has gotten enough of Indian over the years.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-18

    96, I’d suggest that it is instructive seeing this public official’s perception change based on available information. His first impulse was to label the lawsuit as “frivolous.” That’s important to know. Learning that HAVA money is available may change his understanding of which side is making the frivolous argument. I don’t know that Ellis owes his readers or his subject a correction, but he could dig deeper and ask Olson whether he thinks the Lakota plaintiffs claims and Indian voting rights lawsuits in general are frivolous.

    Roger, are you adopting Larry’s county-consolidation plank? If so, should we go big and consolidate Jackson and Bennett into Oglala Lakota County? Just the Jackson absorption would create a county of almost 4,000 square miles, 14% bigger than our largest county, Meade. Include Bennett, and we break 5,000 square miles. We could put satellite voting stations in Wanblee, Kadoka, Martin, and maybe a couple other places; could a county that big effectively provide other services year-round?

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-18

    Douglas, I’ll be happy to eliminate the documentation requirement (don’t forget, voters: you don’t have to show any ID; just sign the affidavit!). However, a few dollars of postage equalizes voting access only if that’s the only means by which anyone can vote absentee, and only if rural voters has the same quality and frequency of postal service as urban voters. As long as we grant white communities the privilege of dropping by the courthouse and filling out their ballots in person for 45 days before the election, we have an obligation to provide similar opportunities to vote to our Lakota neighbors.

    Paying taxes is not a pre-requisite for voting.

  12. Roger Cornelius 2015-08-18


    Although Larry Kurtz’s idea of consolidating counties is a noble idea, it isn’t going to happen. There is a lot of politics in county jobs in particular rural county seats. Those jobs are at a premium and provided needed economic development and employment.
    And yes, combing Oglala Lakota County with Jackson would make for a pretty large county, the value of it would be not having to travel to Hot Springs to get your license plates or marriage license, or more importantly to register to vote. (Note: The South Dakota Division of Employment Office in Pine Ridge is only open or two days a month).
    As to Doug’s typical comment, if there are funds available for satellite voting in Wanblee, they should be used for that purpose.

  13. grudznick 2015-08-18

    My friend Mr. C makes a lot of sense here that Lar can’t ever wrap his mind around because of the hatred coursing through his brain. I think there are some other practical things like maybe the rez might not just be able to annex non-rez or else the Flandreau fellows would already be taking over Sioux Falls. And such.

    Even though everybody knows that Lar and I agree there should be 25, maybe 32 counties maximum in South Dakota, it can’t be done by one county swallowing another. You need the kinder and gentler people selling it. Like how Hawks and Mr. MC would be in the legislatures. Gentle. Like Mr. Wink and Mr. Brown. They seem like real gentlemen.

  14. barry freed 2015-08-19

    I believe you, and others on this site, have “white privilege” confused with Wealth Privilege. Even some at the Rush Trial pointed out the misconception holding posters with the universal “no” sign over “white privilege” saying there is no such thing. I know many well to do Tribal members who drive their $60,000 vehicles to the polls. They work hard, but they are in a position to also take advantage of the Farm Programs normally associated with rich whites. People, of any skin tone, don’t have “proper” ID’s for voting because of their wealth, not pigmentation.
    There is no way to register voters and request absentee ballots at the small town grocery stores? That seems the most likely place to accommodate people who don’t own cars.

  15. Paul Seamans 2015-08-19

    barry freed; white privilege is when I, as a white male, have an automatic advantage over someone who is not a white male. I may not always be thinking of it but nonetheless it is always there. I can’t change being a white male and I don’t apologize for it but I can recognize that white privilege does exist.

  16. barry freed 2015-08-20

    What are these automatic advantages of which you speak?

  17. Paul Seamans 2015-08-20

    barry freed
    As a white male I will probably not be profiled by law enforcement; I will be more likely to considered for a job ahead of a person of color; I will obtain service ahead of a person of color in stores.

  18. jerry 2015-08-20

    What is being missed is that the money is available for the satellite voting place. It will not cost Jackson County or the state a penny to initialize it and would save taxpayers a couple of million in legal fees that they will never recoup. The message in Jackson County and the state for allowing this is clear, We Hate Indian Votes.

  19. mike from iowa 2015-08-20

    barry freed,ever heard the expression driving while black?

    Driving While Black, abbreviated as DWB, is a phrase in American English that refers to the racial profiling of black drivers. The phrase implies that a motorist might be pulled over by a police officer simply because he or she is black, and then questioned, searched, and/or charged with a trivial offense.

    How often do you get stopped for driving while white?

  20. jerry 2015-08-20

    This report is all about how the law enforcement has behaved to people of color, especially males. Force is always the first response when dealing with other than white folks. It is long and comprehensive, but it finally lays to rest the idea that we are all equal under the law and why republicans want to kill the 14th Amendment to our Constitution to keep folks of color from voting.

  21. OJ Semans 2015-08-20

    I just wanted to give a little background on my letter to the SDPAA Board of Directors.

    Two years ago Four Directions met with Jackson County Commissioners and Auditor with a letter from the Oglala Sioux Tribe requesting a satellite office in the community of Wanbli. During the course of the meeting we explained how setting up this office could be cost effective by utilizing a tribal office and cross deputizing a Tribal employee as an auditor. I explained that although the County would be utilizing Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds it still save funds to be used in future elections.

    We then went on to explain how we would work on securing HAVA funds in-order to help. Four Directions was invited by than SOS Gant to be a part of the HAVA task force and we did. During the course of the meetings we developed a race neutral formula that could be used by all the counties all they had to do was meet the criteria on poverty and distance. Jackson County was pre-cleared to utilize HAVA funds for the satellite office. This was approved unanimously by the HAVA Task Force

    The HAVA Task force recommendations were presented to the Election Board who also approved the recommendations unanimously. Some may recall we had a problem earlier and the Election Board voted down our proposal, so we have come a long way since then. Also on or about July 28th 2015 the once defunct EAC became active again and sent a letter to SD SOS stating the funds can be used for the satellite offices. Four Directions has been telling the State of South Dakota since 2004 they could do this and now the EAC agrees with us.

    Continue forward SD SOS Krebs, I believe realizes her fiscal responsibilities and is truly looking out for the citizens in South Dakota by working to eliminate any future litigation’s by talking and working with Counties and Tribes to secure equality.

    As for Jackson County they are on an island in the middle of nowhere all by themselves. With the exception of SDPAA canoeing (Had to throw in a pun) money to them in an attempt to keep their stance on equality afloat.

    All in all Four Directions has come a long way in providing education on equality to the State and we are proud of our progress. If SOS Krebs keeps up looking out for South Dakota, I may have to move somewhere else to start the education process.

Comments are closed.