Absentee ballot lawsuit could cost Minnehaha County taxpayers

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SIOUX FALLS - Heading to the polls is not an easy task for some voters.

A group of Native Americans brought forth a lawsuit to make absentee voting more accessible for some in Jackson County.

Minnehaha County, like many other counties across the state, pays into an insurance fund in case it gets sued and needs to pay up.

Some say the Jackson County lawsuit could cost one of the fund's largest contributors, which is Minnehaha County.

Casting an absentee ballot in person on the Pine Ridge reservation requires voters to go the distance. Up to 30 miles for some. It's why a group called Four Directions is suing Jackson County to open another voting center closer to home.

Four Directions consultant Brett Healy said "it makes it equal for the citizens who live on the Pine Ridge indian reservation, who don't have perhaps the same level of resources that many of us come to expect."

According to court documents, the Jackson County Commission believes it doesn't have the funds.

"They're going to spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands dollars of tax payer money, to help Jackson County fight this suit," Healy said.

It's a fight paid for in part by the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance. It's why Healy brought the lawsuit to the attention of one of fund's largest contributors, Minnehaha County.

Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth said "what's going on is wasting the funds accrued by the assurance association, and that's not good for Minnehaha County or Minnehaha County residents."

"We need those funds to protect us, when we go to court on those kinds of issues, and the idea that someone would wantonly crash their car, or go into a lawsuit they are not going to win, and eventually going to have to pay out millions of dollars, it bothers me," Barth said.

Barth believes what's best for Minnehaha County could also be best for Jackson County.

"I'd like to see Jackson County stop their lawsuit, use federal funds to help Native Americans vote, there is no cost to Jackson County, to go ahead and do that," Barth said.

"It's very important that that equal opportunity be there, and frankly, it's what federal law requires, as of the voting rights act, and frankly the 14th Amendment to the Constitution," Healy said.

While South Dakota voters may request an absentee ballot online, many in the Sioux Falls area go to the Minnehaha County administration building to vote absentee in person.

The only place to do that in Jackson County is at the courthouse in Kadoka.

the help america vote act provides funding for states for elections.

it also contains a provision that states "improve access to polling places and provide assistance to native americans".