Election Board defers voter funds decision

Senator Maher says Secretary Gant is naive

 By T.B. Livermont
Copy Editor, WRE

While Eagle Butte will still see some sort of in-person absentee voting next election, the State’s Majority Whip, Republican Ryan Maher of Isabel and District 28 senator, which includes the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, doesn’t believe racism is to blame for the recent denial of monies for Eagle Butte voter access.

In the aftermath of last week’s Election Board’s refusal of a proposal to use Help America Vote Act funds to subsidize satellite voting centers for in-person absentee voting in three American Indian communities in South Dakota, including Eagle Butte, the Argus Leader confirmed that Secretary of State Gant’s insistence about sending a letter to the Electoral Assistance Commission is suspect, since the commission has been out of quorum and not operating since December 2011.

While activists and others have cried racism, Senator Maher (R) disagreed.

“I truly believe Sec. Grant is naïve when it comes to the issues on the reservations. He does not understand how truly destitute some of the people are out here and how far people have to travel for basic services let alone to vote,” said Maher, in an email to the West River Eagle.

Voter apathy was a main concern to area leaders.

“Native Americans always think the state can’t do anything for them. The state can do a lot for them, but they’ve got to get active in it,” said Representative Dean Schrempp, (D) from Lantry and District 28A.

Maher agreed.

“State elections do effect tribal people, at some point they are going to travel off the reservation and then a different set of laws will come into play and they need to be aware of these changes,” said Maher. “They have a responsibility to know and be educated on the people they elect and send to Pierre.”

According to the Dewey County Auditor Kyrie Lemburg and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Kevin Keckler, about 400 ballots were cast in the last election at the satellite in-person absentee voting office set up in the basement of the BIA building in Eagle Butte.

The satellite office actually ran out of ballots by the close of the absentee voting period, surprising both tribal and county officials.

Schrempp and Maher told the West River Eagle that they also were surprised by the number of voters utilizing the new option.

“I am impressed that 400 people used the service. I truly do think there is a lot of apathy on the reservations, people don’t take the few minutes it takes to vote even when the hoops one has to jump through are removed,” said Maher. “Other than forcing people to vote I don’t know how else to make people aware of how really important it is to show and vote.”

Schrempp, in an interview with the West River Eagle, said that at the last cracker barrel he attended in Eagle Butte only four people showed up. He  rarely gets phone calls from concerned citizens about any issues, despite welcoming that type of public input.

Voter confusion is a serious issue.

Schrempp said he remembered a time when local citizens could go to Lantry and Green Grass to vote, plus other local places.

He said he believes the county cut back for lack of funds and said he understood, because he feels counties in the state are facing serious financial problems.

Maher also shared what he knew to be confusion during election days and offered a suggestion.

“There is a break down between the state and tribe in my opinion as nothing is synchronized. In Eagle Butte, people vote at one place for tribal elections and a different place for state elections. People get frustrated when they show up at one polling place on election day and are told they have to go across town to another place to vote,” said Maher. “All voting should take place at one location, with all the precincts located at one spot, then they people can just walk across the room.”