HELENA – Montana will open satellite voting offices on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations in October as part of a settlement in a federal voting-rights lawsuit.
The offices will be open twice week for late registration and for voters to cast absentee ballots for the Nov. 4 general elections.
Last year, 12 Indian plaintiffs sued Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and elections officials in Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties. They argued they had to drive long distances to county courthouses – in some instances, a more than 100 miles roundtrip – to register late and vote early in elections.
Their lawsuit said the lack of satellite offices made it difficult to vote in the 2012 elections and violated the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discriminatory voting practices or procedures.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the ACLU of Montana and the national ACLU Voting Rights Project supported the plaintiffs’ claims that tribal members living on the three reservations are at a voting disadvantage compared to white voters in Rosebud, Blaine and Big Horn counties.
The defendants argued there could not have been voting rights violations because members of Indian tribes can and have elected tribal representatives to local and state offices.
Voter turnout on Montana reservations is about 30 percent, but turnout for tribal elections that require no long-distance travel is as high as 70 percent. The plaintiffs said the satellite offices could increase turnout in county, state and national elections.
County officials previously argued it would be too difficult to train workers for the satellite offices and to rent the equipment to run them.
Voting access on Election Day was not an issue in the lawsuit.