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?