Blackfeet Tribe Calls For Better Voting Access In Pondera County

Feb 25, 2016

The Blackfeet Tribe is challenging Pondera County Commissioners and Montana’s Secretary of State Office about tribal member’s voting access.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council sent a letter to county officials last week saying the county’s recent offer of 10 hours of in-person access to late registration and absentee balloting in Heart Butte was unacceptable.

Native American issues lobbyist Tom Rodgers says Blackfeet Tribal members often have to drive long distances if they want to cast a vote.

“Native American tribal members in Montana have unequal access to voting, early voting, in-person absentee, late registration.”

The Blackfeet Tribe's letter to the County Commissioners says non-Indian, off-reservation Pondera County citizens have a 19-1 advantage over Blackfeet Tribal members in ballot access.

“We do not treat anyone differently regardless of where they live in the country.”

That’s Pondera County Commissioner Janice Hoppes. She says Pondera County is working to improve voter access.

“Secretary of State Linda McCulloch has issued a directive to all counties with reservations in their counties to look at providing some late registration and absentee facilities.”

The Blackfeet say Pondera County’s proposal for giving tribal members better access to voting is still insufficient. But County officials say they don’t have the staffing required for the Blackfeet’s ask of a satellite voting office on the reservation open every day, 30 days prior to the election.

Earlier this month Secretary of State Linda McCulloch announced voting satellite offices opening in four counties with reservation populations. Pondera County was not on that list.

The Secretary’s office says more satellite offices will be announced next week, which could include offices in Choteau, Pondera, Blaine, Lake, Hill and Valley counties. McCulloch’s office was sued in 2012 by several Montana tribes for not providing Native Americans with equal access to voting.