Every Saturday, Buffalo Post features stories from Native Sun News, published in Rapid City, S.D.
By Randall Howell
Native Sun News Correspondent
HOT SPRINGS –– Early voting for the general election is underway at Pine Ridge and Hot Springs for Shannon County residents.
In fact, Fall River County Auditor Sue Ganje traveled to Pine Ridge village on Tuesday, Sept. 28, to set up equipment and prepare the reservation’s polling place – the office of the county’s Lakota Language Program at the old Indian Health Services hospital, just off Highway 18 west of the “Four Way.”
Ganje, who serves Shannon County as a contracted auditor, said that polls would be open for 22 days “right up to the day before” the general election itself on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“We’ll be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week, except for Oct.11 – a holiday,” said Ganje, who told Native Sun News that the early voting program got the nod from Shannon County Commissioners during the Friday, Sept. 24, meeting. Oct. 11 is Native American Day in South Dakota.
Cost of the early voting program will be absorbed through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Four Directions, a nonprofit organization that has provided guidance and some funding in previous years, said Ganje, the elected auditor for Fall River County, handling business for the unorganized Shannon County.
She said the state has agreed to “pitch in” with HAVA funds, and that Four Directions pledged to contribute $5,000 for costs incurred during the early voting window.
“So, we have two pools of money to draw from now,” Ganje said, who noted that the Shannon County budget had minimal funds to expend toward the program, which allows county residents to cast their general election ballot well before the longer polling-place lines on Nov. 2.
She said that HAVA also was giving Tripp and Todd counties funding help with their early voting programs.
Friday’s meeting represented one of the few times in the past three months that Shannon County commissioners lowered the level of conflict that dominated several summer meetings that focused on the suspension of Sheriff Jim Daggett, who is back on the job after State’s Attorney James Sword petitioned a circuit court judge to reinstate him to the law enforcement position.
At least three commissioners – Francis Pumpkin Seed, Wendell Yellow Bull and Connie Whirlwind Horse – refocused on Sword after the state’s attorney successfully won Daggett’s reinstatement.
At the time, Sword said he expected to lose his job as contracted state’s attorney for Shannon County. Sword had advised the commission several times that it did not have the authority to suspend or terminate Daggett.
Soon, Fall River County’s elected officeholders submitted resignations regarding their contracted positions with Shannon County. At Friday’s meeting at the courthouse in Hot Springs, those county employees withdrew their resignations and agreed to work through Dec. 31 – the date that the current contract with Shannon County expires.
“We will go from there,” said Ganje, who also handles elections for Fall River County as part of her elected position.
During Friday’s meeting the commission’s 3-2 majority – Pumpkin Seed, Yellow Bull and Whirlwind Horse – reappeared to approve the early voting resolution. Earlier, that bloc approved Daggett’s suspension. Friday, it approved early voting as commissioners Deloris Hagman and Lyla Hutchison voted against it.
Insisting her vote had nothing to do with racism, Hutchison returned to her earlier contentions that Shannon County did not have the funds to pay for an early voting program.
Two members of Four Directions – O.J. Semans and Bret Haley — told the commissioners – including tribal member Hutchison — that they were convinced of a “deliberate design” to keep American Indians from voting.
Meanwhile, Ganje explained that the commissioners “moved on” knowing that the end of the contract with Shannon County was but three months away.
“We’ve been working on the basis of a one-year contract,” said Ganje, who said it was business as usual at the courthouse during and after the commissioners adjourned Friday’s meeting.
During the meeting, commissioners also discussed a program designed to help Lakota speaking elders on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation understand the voting process and the ballot.
And, according to Ganje, commissioners also learned that the tribal president has the authority “to override” a scheduling conflict at Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge village when a wake and/or funeral conflicts with a primary or general election schedule.
Customarily, the tribe has used the hall for a polling place, but backed off when it came to wakes and/or funerals.
Contact Randall Howell at: email@example.com