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Spirit Lake honors Dorgan for service

ST. MICHAEL, N.D. -- Spirit Lake Nation invited retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan to lunch today to honor him for his three decades of service to the tribe.

former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan
Byron Dorgan, shown when he was a U.S. senator for North Dakota (Associated Press file photo)

ST. MICHAEL, N.D. -- Spirit Lake Nation invited retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan to lunch today to honor him for his three decades of service to the tribe.

Dorgan, who will leave office at the end of the year, responded by saying the honor should go to the tribe for what he called its tireless efforts to improve the lives of American Indians.

Dorgan also let it be known that although he will leave the Senate at the end of the year, he isn't finished yet. He told the nearly 200 in attendance at the Spirit Lake Casino event that he has asked North Dakota's recently appointed U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon to review a recent decision by the Benson County Commission to close all traditional Election Day polling places on the reservation.

"I think this decision by Benson County officials will disenfranchise American Indians," he said. "I want the U.S. Attorney to review with the Justice Department the decision and determine whether there are actions that can be taken to compel the county to have a polling place on the reservation where people can cast their votes.

The Spirit Lake Tribe announced Monday it plans to seek an injunction in federal court to force Benson County to keep a polling place open for the Nov. 2 election.


Benson County, like many counties in North Dakota, has reduced the number of Election Day polling places to just one, at the county courthouse, as a way to save money. All other Indian reservations in North Dakota are scheduled to have at least one polling place for the Nov. 2 election.

"In addition, there are other areas of the state where people will find fewer opportunities to cast their votes with fewer polling places. I believe the state should reverse course on these election law changes and find ways to make it easier to vote rather than harder to vote."

Since 2006, the number of polling places open on Election Day has been reduced from 469 to an estimated 315 for the Nov. 2 election, a one-third reduction.

"Some counties say they are experimenting with these reductions in polling places, but elections are not 'experiments'." Dorgan said. "I think there will be a lot of North Dakotans who will find it more difficult to cast their vote as a result of these actions.

"I support voting by mail, but I don't think that should be an excuse for local officials to shut down polling locations where people can go and cast their votes on Election Day," he said.

Besides a lunch, the tribe treated the retiring senator with an honor song performed by the Tate Topa Drum Group and Rhythm Riders.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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