Residents of Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota are protesting the county’s decision to remove three polling places from the tribe’s three precinct vicinity.
The Benson County Board of Commissioners cited the high costs of running the polls and training staff as reasons for their decision. Spirit Lake leaders offered to front the costs for recruiting and training poll workers as well as provide rent-free facilities, but the board declined, saying the costs would still be too high and that mail-in ballots are cheaper.
In a county where Natives account for 50 percent of all voters, this move will most certainly disenfranchise them. With only one poll location in the entire county, they will have to travel further and have a longer waiting time to cast their vote. While mail-in ballots may be cheaper, every voter should have the same methods available to cast their vote as every other voter in the U.S.
The tribe filed a lawsuit against the board earlier this month, but the judicial system will have to act quickly considering Election Day is near.
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has publicly condemned the Benson County Board’s decision, commenting, “I want the U.S. attorney to review with the Justice Department the decision and determine whether there are actions that can be taken to compel the county to have a polling place on the reservation where people can cast their votes…I believe the state should reverse course on these election law changes and find ways to make it easier to vote rather than harder to vote.”