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Gant, group reach deal on early voting centers

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant and a group advocating for Native American voting rights have reached an agreement on satellite early voting centers.

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Gant and representatives of the nonprofit group Four Directions on Wednesday agreed on a framework to fund early voting centers in three American Indian population centers, the Argus Leader newspaper reported. The plan could double or even triple voter participation in those communities, Four Directions Executive Director O.J. Semans said.

The dispute was sparked in part by the 2002 Help America Vote Act that Congress passed to address voter access issues identified during the 2000 election.

Last July 31, Four Directions asked the South Dakota Board of Elections to use HAVA funds to establish satellite voter registration and early voting offices in Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation, Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation and Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The towns are far from courthouses in county seats where early voting takes place.

Gant resisted the request, saying he wasn't sure he had the authority to spend federal money on the centers. That led to months of acrimony.

A task force convened by Gant has now agreed to fund early voting in areas that are poor, far away from courthouses and inhabited by residents unlikely to own cars.

"Over the past few meetings that we've had regarding the state HAVA plan, many great ideas have come forward, and we've implemented many of those," Gant said.

South Dakota can't get a ruling on whether the early voting centers are a permissible use of HAVA money because the federal agency that oversees the funds, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, has so many vacant seats it is unable to officially act.

Under Gant's plan, any early voting centers funded by HAVA money would have to reimburse the state if the federal commission were ever to acquire a full membership and rule South Dakota had acted improperly.

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