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Montana Hides Behind “Local Control” to Resist Opening Satellite Voting Stations for Tribes

Then again, sometimes talk at the local level isn’t enough to ensure fair treatment of American Indians.

Last year, American Indian advocates reached a favorable settlement of the Wandering Medicine with Montana counties and the state to establish satellite voting centers in tribal areas. However, two of the three counties involved in that lawsuit still didn’t offer satellite voting centers in the 2014 election, blaming the tribes for not requesting such centers soon enough. Montana’s Secretary of State Linda McCulloch also blames the tribes, cries “local control!” and says she lacks the authority to order counties to provide such equal voting access.

Horsehockey, says the Montana ACLU:

…Judge Molloy has made it undeniably clear in the Wandering Medicine litigation that you do have the authroity to issue directives to county officials mandating satellite voting offices…. The Wandering Medicine litigation did not create a ceiling on the right to vote for Montana’s Indian citizens. At best, it created a floor. Montana’s tribal leaders, and the Tribes they represent, are now calling on you to ensure that the right to vote is provided equally to all Montana citizens [Jim Taylor, ACLU Montana legal director, letter to Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, 2015.10.07].

…and tribal issues activist Tom Rodgers:

“Those who consistently cite local control to support their willingness to embrace inequality of access to polling locations need to be reminded that when it comes to civil rights local control is not about empowerment of the individual it is about his or her exploitation,” he said [Kristen Inbody, “ACLU Joins Fight for Reservation Satellite Offices,” Great Falls Tribune, 2015.10.07].

…and Four Directions exec O.J. Semans:

He likened that to arguments raised by local and state officials who tried to maintain Jim Crow laws in the South in the 1960s.

In South Dakota, which had more than 20 Native voting rights cases in the last 35 years, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs made funds available for counties for in-person voter registration and absentee balloting satellite offices on Indian reservations.

“This is a strong message to Native voters that equal access to the balloting box is important to her – and important to democracy itself,” Semans wrote [Inbody, 2015.10.07].

Funny Semans should mention our Secretary Krebs. Our election chief has her own balky county, Jackson, denying its Indian residents in Wanblee and other reservation towns to go fly a kite and drive to Kadoka to vote like good white people. Jackson County would rather spend several hundred thousand state taxpayer dollars in losing litigation than several thousand dollars of federal Help America Vote Act money that’s just lying there waiting for Jackson County to say, “O.K. fine,” and allow Indian voting equality.

“Local control” does not protect violations of basic rights, and equal voting access is pretty basic. The state’s chief election officer has a duty to ensure that every eligible voter has equal access to the ballot. If counties stand in the way of that equal access, the state’s chief election officer should intervene.


  1. mike from iowa 2015-10-09 07:28

    The end is near. Montana’s SOS is a Democrat wingnut. She reached adulthood at age 24 according to Ballotpedia. Will wonders never cease?

  2. Paul Seamans 2015-10-09 09:45

    I have hopes that SOS Krebs will take care of this and make voting easier all across the state. She is doing better at this job than I had expected.

  3. jerry 2015-10-09 10:17

    Maybe an encampment in racist Kadoka would be the answer to bringing the plight of Native American voters and to show the light on Wilson, the auditor there. While it is discussed on this blog almost exclusively, it does not appear to see the light of the ongoing activities in other sources as a continuing struggle. Wilson, along with the rest of the commissioners, should be shown to the world for what they are, an elected center of hatred for Native people that seem to fear loosing their gravy train. The money is available with no cost to Jackson County, so there can be no other reason other than racism.

  4. mike from iowa 2015-10-09 10:22

    I had/have doubts about Krebs,but she is much better than her predecessor,at least so far. I’m still reserving judgment and plan to keep a distant eye on her job performance just the same.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-09 13:27

    Hmm… time for a spirit/protest camp à la Bridger/NoKXL in downtown Kadoka… or perhaps out by the exit where more people will see it? Who’s the audience for this protest, visitors or the locals, and where do we reach them most effectively?

  6. Mark Winegar 2015-10-09 14:18

    Cory, What can an East River boy do to help make voting available to more Native Americans in Jackson County?

  7. Dennis R Wagner 2015-10-09 16:14

    Perhaps severing the old Washabaugh County (unorganized) from Jackson County and attaching it to Oglala Lakota County would remedy the situation.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-10-09 17:07

    More Jim Crow. It seems like certain righties are spending lots of time and money across this nation to keep non-pasty folks from voting. In addition to SD and MT making it very difficult for American Indians to vote, there is Aladamnbama adding ID requirements for voting, then closing offices where citizens get those IDs/driver’s licenses.

    That ole rusty Jim Crow is winging his way all over the country.

  9. grudznick 2015-10-09 17:34

    Mr. Wagner, you could move to Cottonwood and then run for County Commission.

  10. Paul Seamans 2015-10-09 18:13

    Better yet grudznick let’s have someone from the old Washabaugh County run for county commissioner of Jackson County. Lyman County, that also includes the Lower Brule Reservation, has five commissioners who all are selected at large. There are no districts and there are no Indians on the county commissioners board. This could backfire. Lyman Counties white population is decreasing while the Indian population is increasing. There will come a day.

  11. grudznick 2015-10-09 19:07

    There comes a day every morning, Mr. Seamans. Why, back in the late 70’s my good friend Reggie was on the Washabaugh County Road Board and he was as ornery as they came. He railed and railed at the county commission of Jackson county until they finally just absorbed them. Dick Kneip let it all happen.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-09 20:56

    Mark, you’re asking a blogger for a recipe for practical action? Friends, I accept your laughter. ;-)

    Seriously, from a statewide perspective, one thing we East River folks can do is talk to our county commissioners and other members of the Public Assurance Alliance why we are allowing Jackson County to use our money (our premiums to the Public Assurance Alliance) to defend voting inequality. A lot of county commissioners could create some fiscal pressure on their Jackson County colleagues.

    We can also talk to our Secretary of State, a good East River gal who will be counting on our votes next election (for what, who knows, but for something, surely!) and say we give enough of a darn about our Lakota neighbors in Wanblee that we would view actions to protect their voting rights highly favorably.

    We can also run candidates for Legislature who talk very seriously about identifying some action we could take from Pierre to guarantee satellite voting stations and other voting access assistance. I don’t know what that legislation would look like, but I’m open to suggestions.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-09 20:57

    Reassigning Washabaugh to Oglala Lakota? Holy cow, Dennis! That’s an interesting historical/geographical idea. What would that take? Doesn’t the Legislature have to approve any change in county lines?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-09 21:02

    But would reassigning old Washabaugh put Wanblee folks even further from the courthouse? Does Oglala Lakota even have its own courthouse? Could Washabaugh simply petition to organize as an independent county and put up its own government?

  15. grudznick 2015-10-09 21:19

    I dare say my friend Bob once considered organizing as an independent county out there by Hermosa and the Powers that Be took not very kindly to it all. Of course that wasn’t over voting rights. I think the people in Wanblee having to drive or hitch all the way to Murdo would be a little off-putting.

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