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Buffalo Chip City No More; Judge Sets Precedent to Nix RV Voters?

In a ruling that could set an important precedent for cases involving residency and voting rights and South Dakota, a judge has declared that Rally campers at Buffalo Chip cannot turn themselves into a town:

Fourth Circuit Judge Jerome Eckrich ruled late Friday that the census survey and map submitted by the Buffalo Chip Campground were not legal, and that people who voted in a referendum to approve the town did not technically live at addresses where they registered to vote.

Further, he ruled that the procedures followed by the Meade County Commission, which granted the Buffalo Chip’s petition to become a municipality, were in violation of state law [Deb Holland, “Judge: Buffalo Chip Is Not a Legal City, and He Condemns Election Process,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.05.21].

Days like this, I really, really wish the UJS court document system was accessible over the Web instead of only at the courthouse during business hours. I don’t have Judge Eckrich’s ruling before me. But Sturgis city manager Daniel Ainslie says the ruling affirms his city’s main contention, that temporary campers aren’t residents for voting purposes:

“When the commission called them forward, they stated that they intended to perhaps move to the Buffalo Chip, but several stated on the record that they lived in other communities,” Ainslie said.

The ruling also is a validation for voter rights in the state, Ainslie said.

“When someone says they are registered to vote in a certain area, we believe they actually have to live in the location,” he said [Holland, 2016.05.21].

As we know from the Municipal League’s argument (Judge Eckrich rejected the Municipal League’s request to intervene in the Buffalo Chip case last month, but the statutes they cite are surely relevant), the campers who wanted to make Buffalo Chip a town submitted a census that showed fewer residents than necessary to call a vote; all residents listed gave addresses of empty lots at Buffalo Chip campground. None of the listed “residents” appear to have “fixed his or her habitation” at Buffalo Chip, the all-important language of SDCL 12-1-4 and Heinemeyer v. Heartland (2008).

So campers can’t vote to incorporate a town; does the Buffalo Chip ruling mean campers can’t register at their temporary addresses and vote in any local elections? Will it disenfranchise the thousands of tax-frugal RV owners who have established “residence” at mail-forwarding company addresses in Emery, Madison, Sioux Falls, Chamberlain, and Rapid City?


  1. Paul Seamans 2016-05-21 23:10

    My headline for this story, “South Dakota city wiped off map”.

  2. Shirley Moore 2016-05-21 23:45

    what about taxes? Do we still get the wheel tax if they aren’t residents? Do they need to register and pay elsewhere?

  3. leslie 2016-05-22 00:02

    last paragraph questions may have to wait for legislation or until a SD supreme court decision might result, if ever.

  4. Concerned Citizen 2016-05-22 07:27

    I would also like to know why the closest fire department (City of Buffalo Chip) did not respond to the Full Throttle Fire.

    Nobody has mentioned the Woodruff/Sanborn plot to be able to harvest massive FEMA recovery benefits should it ever hail, etc. on the Chip, uh, like yearly.

    Woodruff/Sanborn still sell for profit videos of the girls who get naked on the Buffalo Chip stage; many were never asked or signed a release, and now that they are 40 year old Black Hills housewives, they are discussing a Class Action.

    Why does Sanborn hang out SO much with Hemp Hoe Down promotor Jeremy Briggs, a.k.a. Keefe Greene? Perhaps the older is teaching the younger the best way to fold laundry.

    As I was dining on the sidewalk in Spearfish at the Bayleaf Cafe, seated next to Woodruff and his wife, I nearly vomited when he told an out of town tourist couple that he “ran a family oriented business in the area”.

    I know where I want that grapefruit sized hailstone to strike.

  5. John 2016-05-22 07:42

    Creating a town is one thing. Voting is another. Voting laws must accommodate folks serving long term overseas in business, government, traveling for pleasure, traveling extensively throughout the nation, or living overseas with an intent to return. It is not uncommon for US citizens living overseas to forego the expense of having two households: one in the US and another their overseas domicile. Thus these US citizens may have only “fixed his or her [US] habitation” via a post office box. I await a reading of the opinion and the appeal.

  6. Geraldine 2016-05-22 09:28

    I know everyone wants money BUT did anyone ever think of how closer and closer, bigger and bigger these motorcycle businesses are getting to our Sacred Bear Butte area? People go to PRAY there, not just Natives, all people. Can there be RESPECT……to keep the motorcycle businesses a long distance away from Bear Butte……………now going to wait for all the negative responses to this……….

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-22 17:46

    That’s the distinction I want to see in the judge’s decision, John. Every citizen needs to be able to vote in one consistent place.

    Actually, something odd just struck me: could an ambitious voter move from state to state during the primary season and vote in multiple presidential primaries?

  8. Nick Nemec 2016-05-22 17:56

    I think they could Cory, starting in Iowa and ending in South Dakota. Not that one vote would do their chosen candidate any good. The time, money and effort would be better spent getting out the vote for your candidate in critical states.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-22 22:21

    Nick reminds us of a very important point: in big elections—i.e., anything involving more than a thousand voters, and certainly the Presidential election—voter fraud doesn’t pay off. If a candidate had $100 million to spend on paying itinerant RVers establish residency in 20 different states to sway the vote in those states’ primaries, the candidate could win more votes just by spending that same amount of money on sensible robocalls, direct mail, and volunteer door-knocking coordination.

    Still, could this prospect justify a consolidated nationwide primary?

    Going back to Buffalo Chip, I wonder if all of those Chip voters have re-registered back in their real home districts for this year’s primary.

  10. Lynn Ryan 2016-05-23 00:02

    I would love to see those mail forwarding companies go out of business. These people are not residents. They should not be allowed to vote in South Dakota. A store front is not a residence any more than a campground.

  11. WA 2016-05-23 06:55


    Looks like everyone was OK with what you said, and I agree. I understand your anger over all the corruption and bad moves both white and indian, but because you are perceived as “pissed all the time” you have alienated yourself from your contemporaries. I commend your bravery, and I know the coiled snake stance is how you survive, but you also build your own prison by raising hell on the evil doers just outside your own fence. Sadly slimes like G.S. and his drug dealing hooligans (with the blessing of certain elders) is a difficult mountain to climb. You will become more powerful when you don’t have to watch out for your kin so much. hoka he

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-23 14:54

    Lynn, if we decide they should not vote here, then where should the honest itinerant American vote?

  13. Mary, Quite Contrary 2016-05-23 18:43

    Can’t you access Pacer (online website for fed cases)? I was thinking anyone could set up an account with them.

  14. Mary, Quite Contrary 2016-05-23 18:44

    My mistake–not a fed case.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-23 20:29

    Mary, how I wish South Dakota’s UJS had a system like PACER, which would allow me to search all state cases from my home computer. Even the terminal at the Brown County Courthouse is woefully restricted: it only allows users to search by case #, not by party name or filing date.

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