- Associated Press - Monday, October 19, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s secretary of state is directing all counties with American Indian reservations to work with tribal governments to establish satellite election offices if they are required under the Federal Voting Rights Act, and if the tribal governments request them.

Most reservations have local polling places for Election Day, but Linda McCulloch says satellite offices would also offer late voter registration and in-person absentee voting in the 29 days prior to the election.

A settlement in a 2012 federal lawsuit won the right to open satellite offices on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations. An office was opened on the Crow Reservation for the 2014 elections, but the others missed a Jan. 31, 2014, deadline to notify election officials whether they wanted the offices.

Glacier County opened a satellite office on the Blackfeet Reservation in 2014 and plans to do so again in 2016, officials said.

McCulloch’s directive, issued Monday, includes the Flathead Reservation, the Rocky Boy’s Reservation and Fort Peck Reservations along with the Blackfeet.

“The success of these election offices on reservations will depend up cooperation between the counties and tribes,” McCulloch said, “and from my conversations with both tribal leaders and election administrators, I am confident that the collaboration will be successful and that voting access will be increased where it is needed.”

The directive comes about a month after the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council wrote to McCulloch demanding that she order all 10 counties with reservations to create satellite voting offices for the 2016 elections.

The Voting Rights Act requires actions to increase access for groups that have a demonstrated history of being discriminated against. Under the directive, counties will analyze whether a satellite office is needed to provide the required access. If the tribal governments request such an office, the county and the tribe must work together to establish one.

The tribal government will be responsible for providing the office space and basic services, such as phone and Internet access, McCulloch said in a statement.

McCulloch said she also supports any efforts to open satellite offices in counties with rural voters who live great distances from the county seat.

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