By Tim Leeds
Blaine County has set Sept. 19 as the date for a special primary in its county commissioner election, but a hearing on July 25 might change that.
U.S. District Judge Philip Pro of Las Vegas ruled in March that the Blaine County commissioners had to draw up new voting districts in the county. After he approved the plan they submitted, the commissioners decided to appeal his decision.
"We will have a hearing on July 25," Commissioner Don Swenson said today. "I believe what will come out of that is whether the judge will stay the election or not."
Pro's ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999. The suit claimed the county's at-large elections, where every county resident can vote in each commissioner election, violated the voting rights of Native Americans in the county. A Native American commissioner has never been elected in Blaine County, although its population is about 45 percent Native American.
Sandra Boardman, Blaine County election administrator, said filing for the race in the new District 1, which includes most of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, began Wednesday. No one had filed for the race by this morning. The deadline to file, which requires a $160.96 filing fee, is 5 p.m. Aug. 5.
The redistricting has changed some of the precincts in the county, Boardman said, adding that she will make sure people know what precinct they are in.
"I am planning to send letters out to all the members of Blaine County," she said.
The District 1 election will include Precinct 3 in Fort Belknap, Precinct 15 in Hays and Precinct 20 in Lodge Pole.
Pro set the dates for the special primary, Boardman said. The county submitted a plan to him for a special primary, but the dates in the plan had passed before an agreement was reached. Pro added 30 days to the dates submitted, she said.
If a commissioner is elected in the new district and then the commissioners win their appeal of Pro's ruling, that commissioner would probably be removed and a new special countywide election held, Swenson said.
The problem with Pro's ruling is that that it will force commissioners to focus on voters in part of the county, Swenson said. The commissioners' job is to handle issues for the entire county.
"My reason, my own personal reason (to appeal), was that I was elected by the entire people of Blaine County, rather than just a certain section in a district," he said. "To get re-elected I only have to appeal to the people in District 2."