PONDERA COUNTY - With just over two weeks to go before the general election, county officials plan on launching a new satellite office for members of the Blackfeet Reservation.
It only takes minutes to reach a nearby post office by car in Great Falls, but until recently that simply wasn’t possible for tribal members around the Heart Butte area.
With no mail deliveries, and many living dozens of miles away from any postal service, these offices makes it easier for anyone living on the reservation to vote on any given election year.
“We know that this vote by mail that’s being pushed right now just does not work for tribal members often times unfortunately,” said Samantha Kelty, a staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF).
The office, located at Heart Butte High School gives people two opportunities for voter registration and going to the polls early on either Mon. Oct. 19 or Thurs. Oct. 29 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Plus, there’ll be an election drop box for ballots come Election Day Nov. 3 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
“We know that Blackfeet Tribal members like to vote in person on the reservation,” said Kelty.
This comes days after Blackfeet Nation filed a lawsuit against county officials for not creating the office sooner despite early community requests. Kelty, who represented Blackfeet members alongside the ACLU of Montana, says the county mentioned COVID-19 safety concerns and a lack of time for their delay.
”Those excuses don’t hold water. They were having their own office there in Conrad, which is 95% white. So they were able to safely open an election office in Conrad. They can safely do the same on the Blackfeet Reservation,” said Kelty.
When asked for comment, the Pondera County Commissioners Office sent Montana Right Now the following statement:
““Pondera County was glad to cooperate with these advocacy groups to find a cooperative solution to difficult voting issues during these unprecedented times. Pondera County will continue to do its best to make voting as accessible as possible for all of our citizens.”
Once it opens, the office will feature social distancing measures like plexiglass to keep voters safe as the Coronavirus pandemic continues.