Montana Establishes 5 Election Offices on Tribal Land

Two offices will open in Big Horn County, and one each in Roosevelt, Glacier and Rosebud counties

By Associated Press

HELENA – Secretary of State Linda McCulloch announced Monday that five new satellite elections offices are set to open on tribal lands across Montana in advance of this year’s elections.

The satellite offices are a result of a directive issued last fall by McCulloch, the state’s chief election officer, to comply with a 2014 settlement over a federal lawsuit brought by Native Americans two years prior under the federal Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit asserted that the remote locations of some reservations presented undue burden on Native Americans because of the distance needed to travel to the nearest ballot box.

“I’m excited that the counties and the tribal counties have worked so well together,” McCulloch said Monday. “We have five so far, and we’re expecting to have some more.”

Two of those five offices will open in Big Horn County and one each in Roosevelt, Glacier and Rosebud counties.

McCulloch said six other counties are currently in talks with tribal governments to open additional offices.

“It’s one, important step to getting people to vote,” said Rhonda Whiting, program director at Western Native Voice, an advocacy group for tribal communities.

“It’s always been difficult to get to the polls,” she said. “I think it makes it more convenient, and more people will turn out to vote.”

Marci McLean, the executive director for the Billings-based group, said satellite offices help bring down barriers to ballot box access.

“If you think about it, there’s high poverty and high unemployment in Native American communities. A lot of them don’t even have cars,” she said. That means some Native voters can’t drive out of the reservation to cast a ballot at a precinct, sometimes located more than 70 miles away.

“Bringing this service to their communities will help make voting more equitable for Native communities,” McLean said.

The satellite offices will allow easy to voting not only on Election Day, but also during the 30-day early voting period.

Under the arrangement, tribes provide office space and basic electronic services such as phone and Internet, while counties provide staff and other resources.