Minnehaha County backed away from placing ballot dropboxes around Sioux Falls after opposition from Republican mayor Paul TenHaken. Lincoln County decided it didn’t need the mayor’s permission to provide convenience for its patriotic Sioux Falls voters; Lincoln County auditor Sheri Lund is plunking a ballot dropbox right at the county line at a 57th Street church… complete with a law enforcement chaperone:
The drop box will be located at the church every Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. through October 28th. The auditor’s office expects a strong turnout since about a third of all Lincoln County voters live in Sioux Falls.
“I know that people driving down to Canton, or doing it through the mail, they’re concerned with both those aspects, so this is, I think, a good option for them,” Lincoln County Auditor Sheri Lund said.
A part-time deputy checks to make sure each ballot is from Lincoln County. He’ll deliver the ballots to the auditor at the end of the evening.
“The box is going to be secured, it’s got locks on it, I don’t think you get more security with law enforcement handling it, so that’s why we’ve chosen to go that way with it,” Lund said [Perry Groten, “Steady Turnout at Lincoln County’s Sioux Falls Ballot Drop-Box,” KELO-TV, 2020.09.30].
I appreciate any action that public officials take to make it easier to vote. Of course, all those South Sioux Falls residents who find it inconvenient to drive 20 miles to the courthouse in Canton are lucky they didn’t have to sue in federal court the way Native Americans did to get equal access to early voting and avoid the harder drive from Wanblee to Kadoka and from other Native American population centers to their remote courthouses.
We should also wonder about the wisdom of placing this dropbox under the supervision of a uniformed, armed police officer who keeps the ballot box in the backseat of his patrol car. Yes, if Trump’s Proud Boy army comes to try stealing ballots, it’s nice to have an honest cop present to protect our sacred votes. However, several states (not South Dakota) ban the presence of armed, uniformed officers at polling places out of concern that cops may intimidate voters:
“Whether it’s an armed police officer patrolling a polling place or just having a police car with lights blaring in front of a polling place, all can serve as a form of voter intimidation and certainly can have a chilling effect, particularly in Black and brown communities,” said Gilda Daniels, litigation director for the Advancement Project and author of “Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America.”
…Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel and senior deputy director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, agreed. “If the experience of you or your family members with law enforcement has been really bad, you’re not going to want to see a police officer at the polls,” he said. “Their presence can have the effect of turning people away.”
…In 2016, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement, Macon-Bibb County, Georgia, announced plans to move a polling place to the sheriff’s office. “Using the Sheriff’s office as a polling place can be intimidating, especially considering the history of violence by local law enforcement at the polls during the Jim Crow era,” the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote in a 2018 report on nonwhite voting access. In order to stop the move, local advocates successfully collected signatures from 20 percent of active, registered voters in the county [Kira Lerner, “Police at Polling Places Could Intimidate Voters,” The Appeal, 2020.07.02].
There’s no sign that Lincoln County is engaged in voter intimidation behind a badge… but then that’s easy for may to say when I’m a member of the privileged racial class in South Dakota.
While armed police toting ballot boxes out to remote drop sites may not be optimal, Lincoln County’s deputy dropbox is increasing access to early voting for thousands of city-dwelling Lincoln County voters. The dropbox is outside in a parking lot, reducing the potential for coronavirus spread—and hey, if I were working in an office in Canton, I’d be thrilled to find a way to keep all those virus-laden Sioux Falls folks from crowding into my courthouse.
So absent a legal argument, I can only say to folks who might feel intimidated walking up to a deputy to cast one’s vote, don’t be afraid, and don’t go alone. Bring ten friends, each with an early ballot, drop your ballots off together… and live-cast your interaction on Twitter to show your patriotism and prove to all that Lincoln County is offering good public service to all of its voters.