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In-person absentee voting option in Eagle Butte for state/federal election

by Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Getting equal access for voters in counties that overlap with reservations can be a nasty uphill battle, but not for Dewey County citizens this election.

Local residents Julie Garreau and Michelle DuBray, both recipients of Bush Foundation Native Nations Rebuilders fellowships, decided to work together on a voter access campaign after Garreau lost a state race in 2010, a race that was valuable in another way.

“What I realized from that election, they weren’t not voting for me, they weren’t voting for anyone,” said Garreau.

“We need to change the way people feel about the process … People [feel] that is not our government. Tribal government is our government. But that’s not true. State government, national government, federal government make decisions about us all the time. We are U.S. citizens, South Dakota citizens.”

DuBray and Garreau both met with other tribal voting access activists, including O.J. Seamans, Rosebud Sioux director of the voter rights group, Four Directions. They visited with county officials, county commissioners and those running for county office about bringing a voting station to Eagle Butte, seat for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and main population center.

“I hope we have many people vote in Eagle Butte all the way up to the election,” said DuBray. “Many people come to Eagle Butte for various reasons and now they have the opportunity to vote when they are in town and not make a special trip to Timber Lake for in-person absentee voting, nor do the mail in option. It is a wonderful opportunity for the community to increase voter turn out in this election and every election in the future.”

DuBray had originally contacted the county auditor’s office back in 2010 about bringing a voting option to Eagle Butte, but was turned down. A change in the office, as well as a decision by the county commission since that time made the difference for this election.

“While I was campaigning in June for the primary election, many individuals suggested finding an easier way for people to vote. I decided when I took office, I would look into the possibilities and see what options we had,” said Kyrie Lemberg, current auditor of Dewey County. “When I started my job the beginning of September, the commissioners had already approved setting up an absentee voting station in Eagle Butte. After determining a location for the voting station, Steve Aberle, Dewey County State’s Attorney, and I went to Eagle Butte to help get everything set up.”

This included deputizing Winona Charger, CRST tribal employee, as a deputy county auditor, so that she could take voter registration and most importantly in-person absentee ballots.

The work of various individuals at the public, tribal and county level is almost unprecedented and is serving as a model for future reservation/county partnerships for other tribes.

We’re debunking the myth that counties and tribes can’t work together, said Garreau.

So far, feedback to and from the county has been very positive.

“I hope we can continue to provide the absentee voting station in Eagle Butte to make voting access easier for many individuals,” said Lemberg. “I am open to any suggestions on how to make voting easier in Dewey County. I thank everyone who helped get it set up, and Winona Charger for volunteering to run the station. So far, it has been a big success.”

Other counties in South Dakota have not been as supportive.

According to a report in Indian Country Media Network, Fall River County, Shannon County and Buffalo County have all been accused of blocking tribal voters’ access to voting or registration. Some have faced scrutiny from the Justice Department.

Voter access isn’t only a racial or tribal issue, it is also an issue for rural communities in general. All citizens, tribal and non-CRST members, may use the Eagle Butte in-person absentee voting option.

 

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