The Billings Outpost

Voting suit settled; Daines ahead of Walsh


Cathy Siegner

A lawsuit filed in 2012 by three Native American tribes against the Montana Secretary of State and Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties over the lack of reasonable voting access has been settled within days of going to court.

As detailed in my April 2 column, the lawsuit (Wandering Medicine vs. McCulloch) had alleged discrimination prohibited by the 1965 Voting Rights Act caused by Indian voters having to drive relatively long distances to register to mark their ballots at a county courthouse. The Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes had asked that satellite voting offices be set up in those three counties to make the process easier (and they had asked back before the November 2012 general election).

The secretary of state’s office and county elections offices in those three counties claimed it was too difficult to train required workers and rent necessary equipment to operate satellite voting offices, and they sought to have the case dismissed. However, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula found their arguments less than persuasive and ordered the case to proceed.

In the settlement reached last week, Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties agreed to open satellite voting offices on the Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations starting Tuesday, Oct. 7, and to pay the plaintiffs’ legal expenses of about $75,000. Also, the state separately agreed to pay an additional $25,000 in attorney’s fees.

However, the reservation-based satellite offices will only be open two days each week for tribal members to register to vote and/or cast absentee ballots in person. And, during those two days, the voting offices in the county seats of those three counties will not be open. That’s because current state law doesn’t permit simultaneous county voting offices.

Calling the settlement an “inelegant fix,” Bret Healy, a South Dakota-based voting-rights consultant, was quoted as saying that underlying technical issues still need to be addressed.

“It simply defies belief that in this day and age we can’t have main voting offices and satellite offices open and running five days a week,” Healy reportedly said. “The only reason that hasn’t happened is because nobody has rolled up their sleeves and tried to fix this.”

Senate poll

The latest Pulse Opinion poll of Montana voters, conducted June 9-10 (just after the June 3 primary election), shows U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the Republican nominee in the U.S. Senate race, up 18 percentage points over U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., the Democratic nominee, or 53 percent to 35 percent, respectively. Nine percent of respondents were undecided.

That’s a jump of four percentage points from where Daines was in the same poll in March, which was reported to be at 51 percent to 37 percent, respectively. Of course, there were six people running in the primary for the U.S. Senate seat, and now we’re down to two. Both polls were sponsored by Rasmussen Reports, one of the top political handicappers in the country.

Signatures due

Signatures on initiative petitions are due this coming Friday, June 20, to county elections offices. By my count, there are a dozen so-called statutory initiatives out there available for signature-gathering, but not all 12 will actually gather enough verifiable signatures to be certified and placed on the Nov. 4 general-election ballot.

The ones I’ve seen being circulated around Helena are Ballot Issue No. 14, which would increase access to Montana’s Medicaid program for uninsured, low-income adults; Ballot Issue No. 9, which would prohibit trapping of certain animals by private individuals on any public lands within the state of Montana, and Ballot Issue No. 16, which would reclassify cable companies’ property tax valuations.

To qualify for the ballot, a statutory initiative must have the signatures of at least 24,175 registered Montana voters, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 out of the 100 state House districts. That’s a pretty tall order and why most of those 12 proposals won’t make it to the ballot this fall.

Iraq fallout

Proving for the umpteenth time how tragically ill-advised, expensive and deadly it is for the U.S. (or anybody else) to get involved in another country’s internal business, the inevitable has again occurred and Iraq is now being overrun by a Sunni Islamic militant group called “ISIS” (for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

Although it seemed like a lightning-fast operation to those unfamiliar with the region (e.g., most Americans), it was actually years in the making, according to a June 14 New York Times analysis piece by a reporter who is in-country. There were warning signs last month that ISIS, after recently losing some top commanders in various raids or arrests, had reorganized, chosen new leaders, and was refocused on taking over Iraq despite U.S. and the Shiite-dominated government’s pronouncements to the contrary.

President Obama has already said he will not order combat soldiers back to Iraq, but he is weighing various options and will decide in the next few days what to do. At a minimum, we can expect air and missile strikes on key ISIS targets; after all, this is an election year, and Obama doesn’t need more of that shrill partisan critique basically consisting of, “Democrats are national security wusses.” Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (inject irony here) to move from the North Arabian Sea into the Persian Gulf.

Paul Whitefield of the Los Angeles Times offered an astute suggestion, or at least as astute as any other I’ve heard. His idea, in part, “Send Mr. [George W.] Bush and Mr. Cheney over there and let them try to negotiate a solution. And tell them they can’t come home until they’re successful. After all, they’re the ones who created this mess in the first place.”

Cantor whipped

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost the Virginia GOP primary last week to David Brat, a relatively unknown professor at Randolph-Macon College with tea-party politics. The final vote tally was 55.5 percent for Brat and 44.5 percent for Cantor, who has served seven two-year terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, has announced that he will resign as House Majority Leader effective July 31 but will remain an official member of Congress until Jan. 3, 2015, when either Brat or John Trammell, the Democratic nominee for that House seat, will be sworn in. (Coincidentally, Trammell is a professor at the same college as Brat, although he teaches sociology while Brat teaches economics.)

House Republicans appeared to be in disarray last week while dealing with the shock of Cantor’s defeat and trying to elect a new majority leader at the same time. They were apparently so frazzled that they had to postpone voting on the agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 as a result.

Text ban

Guess which state is the only one in the nation without a statewide ban on at least some drivers texting while driving? If you answered “Montana,” you win a set of Ginsu knives, a Pocket Fisherman, and an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in Big Sky Country, texting all the way (if you so choose).

We got that dubious honor after a new law banning texting while driving took effect in South Carolina earlier this month, joining 44 other states that ban texting while driving for all drivers and a few others which ban it for young and/or less-experienced ones. About a dozen Montanan cities and two counties have outlawed texting while driving so far.

Quote of the week

“I wouldn’t have voted for that damn war in Iraq and I wouldn’t vote for the next one, I’ll tell you that. I know too much about the Middle East to put another dime or another son in that war or any of those places.”

— Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, during a June 13 speech to Republican donors and company CEOs at a Mitt Romney-sponsored meeting in Park City, Utah, quoted in the June 14 Washington Post.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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