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South Dakota State Capitol

Elephants, Donkeys, Billionaires—and Another Stunning Native Vote Win

Stephanie Woodard

One Republican senator brought up the “elephant in the room”: the Native vote is overwhelmingly Democratic, and increasing Native turnout increases Democratic ballots.

Other senators on both sides of the aisle saw increased access as a plus and local control as the ruling factor. Said Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton), “If local governments have decided [accepting donations is] a way to increase access, they should be allowed to make that decision.” Senator Angie Buhl O’Donnell (D-Sioux Falls) agreed: “There’s a need for more voting access, and this is a way to solve it.”

In the end, the committee’s bipartisan five-to-one vote against the proposal astonished political watchers more accustomed to this red state’s hostility to the Native vote and, more generally, to the state’s largest minority group. “By the time the meeting was over, most everyone was talking equal access to voting,” recalled Semans.

“I’m delighted that the committee saw this bill for what it was, which is a solution in search of a problem,” said Sioux Falls attorney and state elections board member Richard Casey. He reported that the state’s HAVA Task Force is working on language that would allocate funding for early-voting satellite offices on reservations and in other communities that meet certain criteria (poverty, distance from county seats and more).

However, South Dakota isn’t singing Kumbaya yet. Republican rainmakers appear to be talking about re-introducing the failed senate bill, along the theory that it’s not dead-dead until the legislative session is over in March. A call to Secretary of State Gant revealed that he was in a meeting and couldn’t comment, according to state elections coordinator Brandon C. Johnson. About reintroducing the senate bill, Johnson said, “Honestly, I haven’t heard a thing.”

This article was written with support from the George Polk Center for Investigative Reporting.


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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Republicans live in their own world. They can't win on merit, they're no longer the top party in fighting terrorism, they claim to want LESS government, but insist on intruding in people's bedrooms, and deny equal rights to large portions of American society. This is a PERFECT example of the mythological world in which they live: "Testifying before the committee, Gant called the donations part of a “slippery slope.” He raised the specter of “a billionaire coming from New York” and chucking money and influence around the state." Aren't billionaires coming into the Dakotas giving away money always a problem? You can't hardly walk through either of the Dakotas without some damn billionaire trying to give NDNs money to influence their vote.

JC's picture
Submitted by JC on
It's people like Mr. Gant and their discrimination that led me to leave the Republican party and become a Libertarian.