SDHC'S Final Voting: Why It Matters Discussion Program to Include State Legislators, Political Experts

'Who Votes in South Dakota?" Scheduled for April 6

Appropriately, the final panel discussion for Voting: Why It Matters will include two people who were elected to make South Dakota laws.

On April 6, Sen. Troy Heinert and Rep. Tamara St. John, along with Frank Pommersheim and Amy Scott-Stolz, will examine the South Dakota electorate with a focus on the Native American population. "Who Votes in South Dakota?" will be held via Zoom at 7 pm CDT/6 pm MDT. Pommersheim is a retired University of South Dakota professor and Scott-Stolz is the president of the League of Women Voters in South Dakota.

Voting: A Chance to be Heard

A foundational principle of a democratic society, the right to vote gives Americans a chance to be heard via the leaders they elect — from local legislators to the President of the United States. The South Dakota Humanities Council's Voting: Why It Matters series explores civic participation as it relates to electoral engagement in a multivocal democracy.

Scott-Stolz said it is vital to have the kinds of conversations made possible by the initiative, which has included, in four other panels, discussions on women's suffrage, Native American rights, recent political turmoil, and other relevant topics.

"In a democracy, the power is vested in the people. Conversations around who votes and who doesn't can shine a light on roadblocks to voting access so that we can work to remove them," she said. "The more of our eligible population that votes, the more reflective our government bodies will be of our population as a whole."

As the leader of a "nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government," Scott-Stolz is a voting advocate who appreciates the intention of SDHC's initiative.

"For 100 years, the League of Women Voters has empowered voters and defended democracy," she said. "Over the last century, we've fought for election protection, democratic reforms, and equal access to the ballot—all while maintaining our commitment to nonpartisanship and fostering an informed electorate."

SDHC board member Tamara St. John, pictured at an event in Washington, D.C., is a panelist for the April 6 SDHC event

SDHC board member Tamara St. John, pictured at an event in Washington, D.C., is a panelist for the April 6 SDHC event "Who Votes in South Dakota?"

Native Rights

A proper analysis of voter representation in South Dakota includes an examination of both highly visible and underrepresented demographics. Because Native Americans have been historically underrepresented in elections, Tuesday's discussion will center on Native American electoral access. The two legislators and the law expert who will participate are particularly relevant to that main thread.

Heinert and St. John made strides for diversity in South Dakota political leadership in 2018. That year Heinert, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a legislator since 2012, was appointed as the first Native American caucus leader in the State Legislature. He is now the Assistant Minority Leader in the South Dakota Senate. Meanwhile, St. John, an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, bucked the odds as both a woman and a minority when she was the first Republican in 40 years to win the District 1 seat for South Dakota's House of Representatives in 2018.

St. John's victory was attributed to Native American voter turnout. "It says something about the power of the tribal vote," she told the Native Sun News Today. "I didn't know if our tribal people would come out to vote."

Pommersheim is a retired USD law professor steeped in tribal law: He serves on tribal appellate courts throughout Indian country, including Chief Justice for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court of Appeals and Associate Justice for the Rosebud Sioux Supreme Court. A New York native who moved to Rosebud in 1984, he also writes extensively in the field of Indian law.

"Because the South Dakota Humanities Council values diversity and strives to serve all of our state's residents, we chose to highlight electoral access for Native Americans, our largest marginalized population," said Jennifer Widman, who produced the programming for the Voting: Why It Matters and also oversees SDHC's statewide South Dakota Festival of Books.

"Troy and Tamara are both pioneers of diversity in South Dakota politics, and Frank is a trusted resource for Native American law in South Dakota. Amy brings a wealth of knowledge as an advocate for full enfranchisement for all voters, regardless of race, gender, location or socioeconomic status."

Join the Event

Join SDHC for the final event in our Voting: Why It Matters series — a discussion with four South Dakota civic leaders about voter access and involvement among various populations in our state, particularly Native Americans, on Tuesday, April 6, at 7 pm CT/6 pm MT. Register by clicking the button below.