North Dakota’s Voter ID Law Aims to Disenfranchise Native Americans

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld North Dakota’s most recent controversial voter identification law, which many argue was purposely designed to discriminate against the state’s Native American population. That means a voter ID law that disenfranchises thousands of Native voters will be in effect for the November elections.

The law disqualifies all voters whose official ID’s list a P.O. Box instead of a residential address, disproportionately suppressing the vote of Native Americans who often live on rural reservations where many homes do not have street addresses and where many mail carriers will not deliver. Native Americans are also over-represented among the homeless population. The upheld law has left many Native American tribes scrambling to get their members official street addresses through the state, and then updating tribal ID cards to reflect these newly created street addresses.

On the ballot this year is Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp who won her election in 2012 by only 3,000 votes thanks in large part to Native American voters. By attempting to bar many Native Americans from voting in November, Democrats accuse the Republican-controlled North Dakota legislature of purposely suppressing voter turnout to favor the Republican candidate.

This is not North Dakota’s first attempt to suppress Native American votes through surgical voter ID laws. In 2016, a federal court blocked the enforcement of a 2013 state law requiring voters to present one of only four types of IDs when they went to the polls displaying only their current address with no option for a provisional ballot.

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 has never received a report of any voter fraud in North Dakota.

There has been a widespread tightening of voter registration and Identification laws across the country. In Ohio, the Supreme Court upheld a law that authorized the purging of voters from voter rolls after 4 years of inactivity, a controversial vote for the state. Similarly, gerrymandering laws in Texas and North Carolina were upheld in June, allowing for districts to be designed to maximize the number of districts that vote for a certain party, in this case, Republican. Finally, New Hampshire passed restrictive residency laws in July, effectively disenfranchising the state’s thousands of out-of-state students. All of these laws mirror past tactics to  bar many of America’s low income, young, and minority adults from exercising their right to vote.

Media Resources: NPR 10/13/18; The Hill 10/11/18

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