I guess I'm lucky I'm not living in Shannon County... and part of a key Democratic-leaning constituency that the state's Republicans would love to see miss the vote:
Native Americans have long faced police harassment, illegal voter challenges, and election-day chaos on the way to the polls in South Dakota. Those problems may soon be over on the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. That's because South Dakota has no clear plan to provide any voting at all in this fall's election.
The imminent disenfranchisement of thousands of voters follows resignations of officials in the off-reservation county that handled outsourced, non-tribal government services, including elections, for Pine Ridge's Shannon County. However, the crisis may also have arisen because Oglalas, members of the nation's most marginalized ethnic group, have emerged as deciders in South Dakota elections -- as have tribes in other areas since 2000, when Native support helped send Washington state's Maria Cantwell to the U.S. Senate. With Shannon County voters turning in the nation's highest Democratic performance in recent presidential elections, sidelining them is a game-changer in close contests, including this year's race for the state's sole Congressional seat, held by Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.
South Dakota's head election official, Secretary of State Chris Nelson, has taken a hands-off approach to the problem, saying the counties involved should solve it. If they don't, said Attorney General Marty Jackley, who's up for re-election, "the state will weigh the need to take action" [Stephanie Woodard, "South Dakota Election Scandal: Are Oglala Sioux Voting Rights Doomed?" Huffington Post, 2010.09.20].
I might be able to appreciate Secretary Nelson's fatherly, "you kids settle your own differences" approach, if we weren't talking about a fundamental Constitutional (federal and state) right. Shannon and Fall River counties may need to untwist their own knickers, but the state has an obligation to ensure every eligible South Dakotan has the same opportunity to vote. Our right to vote should not hinge on a bureaucratic spat or any other vagary of local government.
I can vote every business day at my courthouse. Every citizen of Shannon County and every other jurisdiction in South Dakota should have the same opportunity. Secretary Nelson should deputize a couple folks in his office, give them a van loaded with ballots and a couple strong metal boxes, and send them with a Highway Patrol escort to set up an absentee polling place in Pine Ridge.
Bonus: Chat with Secretary Nelson live online this morning at 9 a.m. Mountain (that's 40 minutes from the time of this posting!) on the Rapid City Journal's live web chat, hosted by Kevin Woster.