GREAT FALLS, Montana — A group of tribal leaders have sent Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch a letter demanding that she order all counties with Native American reservations to create satellite voting offices for the 2016 elections.
The letter from the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council said offices should be opened in 10 counties to allow American Indians to vote absentee and register late in person.
"We want them there and that's what we're entitled to," tribal issues activist Tom Rodgers told the Great Falls Tribune (http://gftrib.com/1iCgvjL).
A settlement in a 2012 federal lawsuit won the right to open satellite offices on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations. The lawsuit's plaintiffs from those three reservations said voters often had to travel hundreds of miles to the county seat to vote absentee or to register.
An office was opened on the Crow Reservation for the 2014 elections, but Northern Cheyenne and tribal officials missed a deadline to notify election officials whether they wanted the offices.
A satellite office also was opened on the Blackfeet reservation for the 2014 elections, even though Glacier County was not a defendant in the lawsuit. The lawsuit did not include the Fort Peck, Flathead and Rocky Boy's reservation.
The letter from the tribal leaders council said that the judge in the lawsuit determined McCulloch has the authority to issue a directive telling the counties they must establish the satellite offices.
McCulloch supports satellite offices, but the request to open one must come from the county election office, the county commission and the tribe, spokeswoman Blair Fjeseth said.
"Secretary McCulloch is also an advocate for local control, and trusts that counties and tribes know what is best for their residents," she said.
McCulloch offered to purchase ballot-on-demand machines would allow counties to issue ballots from multiple offices, which Glacier and Big Horn counties accepted for the 2014 elections, Fjeseth said.
"It is unknown at this time how many satellite offices will be opened by counties for the 2016 elections," Fjeseth said in a statement. "The three counties that are part of the settlement agreement must receive a request from the tribe by Jan. 31 of each election year."
Glacier County plans to have a satellite office in 2016, she said.
Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com