Saturday, August 3, 2013

Something Is Not Right In Gant's Explaination

Jason Gant decided to respond to his reasoning for preventing to provide increases access to native American voters in three counties by using Help America Vote Act funds (9 million) that South Dakota has been sitting on for years.  Unfortunately, his explanation leaves much to desire.  Below is his explanation for why he won't use the money (okay, he says he is waiting, but read it closely and you see that he is just jerking everyone's chain.)

A group called Four Directions has requested the use of Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds for an additional in-person absentee voting location in three South Dakota counties.  The State Board of Elections voted against a resolution supporting the request of Four Directions to use HAVA funds for additional in-person absentee voting locations at this time. 
It is important to know that South Dakota law allows for an additional in-person absentee voting location.  This process was used in the 2012 election in two counties and was paid for by Four Directions through the counties.  The issue is whether or not HAVA funds can be used for this activity. 
The use of HAVA funds is a very detailed and complex process regulated by Federal and State laws along with a State HAVA Plan.  To disperse funds from this account, a number of requirements must be met including accessible voting for individuals with disabilities, the removal of punch card voting systems, and provisional ballots to name a few.  Shannon and Todd Counties do not have a courthouse for in-person absentee voting, so HAVA funds have been used to ensure that all South Dakotans have the same access. 
Our South Dakota election process today ensures that in all 66 counties there is one location for in-person absentee voting.  Should a county wish to add more, that is their decision. 
HAVA funds are not allowed by Federal and State laws as well as the State HAVA Plan for election services such as in-person absentee voting in the office of the County Auditor and absentee voting by mail.  These election expenses are paid for by county governments.  
The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is the only government agency tasked with the distribution and administration of HAVA funds.  The EAC has issued a number of advisory opinions in the past and States must rely on this Federal agency for guidance when it is unclear whether the use of HAVA funds may or may not be used.  If the State of South Dakota were to use HAVA funds in an inappropriate program, the State of South Dakota would then be responsible for reimbursing the HAVA funds for those programs.  It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the use of HAVA funds is appropriate and meets the distribution and administration of elections per the EAC. 
If HAVA funds were to be used in all 66 counties for implementing an additional in-person absentee voting location, based off Four Directions estimates, that would cost an estimated $1,000,000 each election year.  Consideration must be made on the future funding of the program.  Eventually, the money will run out and we will have an ongoing election expense utilizing one-time funds.  This process will leave the South Dakota Legislature and possibly County Auditors with the problem of funding this election program on an ongoing basis. 
On August 1, 2013, a letter was sent to the EAC asking for guidance regarding the subject of an additional in-person absentee voting location.  The EAC can either say yes, no, or they may issue no response.  The previous Secretary of State believed, in an email to County Auditors in 2008, that HAVA funds for satellite absentee voting would not be an approved expense.  Once the EAC review is completed, then additional steps can be acted upon.  There are too many variables to consider before making a final decision. 
As Secretary of State, it is my responsibility to oversee the administration of HAVA in South Dakota.  I will not use HAVA funds unless it is clearly defined that I can do so.  I will continue to work towards increasing access to voting while being responsible with State HAVA funds.
David Montgomery from the Argus raises some interesting questions about why Gant was not forthright with the fact that the EAC can no longer issue advisory rulings.
Gant, who started out his tenure as secretary of state with promises of newfound accessibility and handled all calls to his office himself, has avoided the media for more than a year now. His self-imposed isolation came around the time he was under fire from a variety of corners for some of his decisions — which, of course, led to articles in the press describing and investigating those complaints. 
I’m sure Gant has what seems like a good reason for not returning media calls. But here’s a media relations tip: a story will almost always end up better for you if you talk to the reporter. Journalists want to present both sides. They may not present your side in exactly the way you’d wish, but they’ll present it. Boycotting the press out of some misguided attempt to punish or delegitimize the media just means stories get written without your side presented.
The first question I think that Gant needs to answer (and probably can't without showing his bias) is why didn't he tell the ruling committee that the EAC no longer is able to issue rulings and has a backlog that is year's long.  He should know since he has spearheaded  the ending of the EAC.
The National Association of Secretaries of State repeatedly has called for the elimination of the EAC. Gant is treasurer of that association and is a member of a committee called the Task Force on the Disposition of EAC Duties. The EAC's website shows there are more than a dozen pending requests for advisory opinions, some of them several years old, The Argus Leader reported. 
In the same article I think Linda Viken, an Elections board member sums it up best:

Elections Board member Linda Lea Viken, a Rapid City lawyer, said she believes the board should meet again to discuss the issue. She said she is surprised that Gant did not tell the board that the federal commission has not issued any opinion in recent years because the commission seats are vacant. 
"Frankly, I'm in part embarrassed," Viken told The Associated Press, noting that the board discussed the issue without having accurate information.
A second problem is that he talks about if he doesn't know the funds can be used, but he didn't need to check in with someone (including the South Dakota Board of Elections) to say NO!

The Buffalo County auditor and local elections official, Elaine Wulff, wrote to Jason Gant, South Dakota secretary of state and head elections official on May 10. She asked him whether the county could use Help America Vote Act funds to pay for such an office. Congress passed HAVA in 2002 to improve the elections process and ease voting access nationwide. 
“I’ve gotten a verbal ‘no’ back from the secretary of state, but nothing in writing,” said Wulff. She explained that Buffalo County is very poor and needs the money if it is to provide a satellite office in Fort Thompson, population 1,600. Otherwise, voters there and elsewhere in the county must travel to early-vote in the courthouse in Gann Valley, population 13.
It seems that a judge has even ruled the HASVA can be used to establish early voting, so I think he could lean towards precedent.
The county isn’t entirely home alone. In a preliminary order recognizing the defendants’ promise to use HAVA funds to provide a full menu of voting to Shannon County, federal judge Karen Schreier told the plaintiffs to let her know if this doesn’t happen, so “the court can take appropriate action.” Schreier has yet to set a trial date. (From previous article)

The final thing that bothers me is the claim that the state couldn't afford it.  He argues that if the funds were used in all 66 counties, then it could cost a million dollars each election year.  That is a clear and simple straw man argument if I ever saw one.  I may have to use that as an example with my students.  No one is asking for more service in all 66 counties.  If there is that much demand, then maybe the SOS should think about serving the needs of SOuth Dakotans, but if there isn't a screaming happening, then he is faking the numbers.  He also makes it seem like this money would be spent every year, but it can only be applied to federal election years (every 2 years).  That means it would 18 years by the time the HAVA money would run out and by that time the state could probably add another 360 million into the rainy day fund.

So Mr. Gant, why not just come out and admit that you don't want have Native Americans voting because they trend to vote for Democrats and you feel your job is to protect your party, or you can admit that you don't know what you are doing.

I think that the legislature will need to pass a law to expand sites for early voting in those counties that need it since the SOS seems incapable of doing his job. 

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