Continuing a pattern of recent federal court decisions in favor of voting rights, Judge Daniel L. Hovland of the U.S. District Court for North Dakota yesterday blocked enforcement of the state’s strict voter ID law.
In blocking the law, Judge Hovland, a George W. Bush appointee, found that the 2013 measure impermissibly restricted the ability of some Native Americans in the state to vote. Under the 2013 law, North Dakotans were required to present one of only four types of identification to vote: a state driver’s license, a non-driver state-issued ID, a state-issued long-term care certificate, or a tribal identification card. To be valid, the ID presented had to show the voter’s current address. No other forms of identification were accepted, and the law did not provide any ability for those unable to obtain an ID to vote through a provisional ballot—the only state in the nation to have such a restriction.
Though tribal identification cards were one of the permitted IDs, many of these cards do not require that addresses be listed, and Native Americans often cannot obtain, or have difficulty obtaining, state-issued IDs. For example, there are no state motor vehicle license offices on reservations and many Native Americans do not have the necessary proofs of identity, such as birth certificates or social security cards, required to obtain a state-issued ID.
As a result, according to a study submitted by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, nearly a quarter of Native Americans in North Dakota lack a permitted ID to vote, compared to 12 percent of non-Native American voters, and close to 48 percent of Native Americans without a qualified ID do not have the underlying documents needed to obtain one.
“The undisputed evidence in the record clearly demonstrates there are likely thousands of eligible voters in North Dakota who lack a qualifying ID,” wrote Judge Hovland. “The undisputed evidence produced to date supports the conclusion that some of those voters will simply be unable to obtain the necessary ID, no matter how hard they try.”
“No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote,” he concluded.
North Dakota, with its very small population, has only 3 votes in the Electoral College. For decades, poll workers did not have to keep track of voter rolls and were trusted to simply recognize their neighbors who came to vote. In 2006, North Dakota secretary of state Alvin Jaeger said he had never received a report of any voter fraud in North Dakota. Jaeger is currently serving as secretary of state, and has said North Dakota will not appeal the district court’s ruling for the November election.