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SCOTUS Allows ND Voter ID Law that Limits Native American Turnout

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N. D., won by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012 with support from Native American voters. (Heidi Heitkamp/Flickr)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N. D., won by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012 with support from Native American voters. (Heidi Heitkamp/Flickr)
October 11, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. – Many Native Americans in North Dakota could find it hard to vote in this year's midterm election after the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear a case against the state's restrictive voter ID law.

The 2013 law says qualifying IDs must contain residential street addresses.

However, the U.S. Postal Service doesn't deliver to rural reservations, and many who live there don't have a residential address on their tribal IDs.

Native Americans sued over this law in 2016.

Attorney Matthew Campbell with the Native American Rights Fund says the state has acknowledged that tribal members and others in the state lack residential addresses, which is why lawmakers from both parties voted down a similar provision in the past.

"So in 2011, they rejected that type of ID law,” he relates. “It wasn't until 2012 that Sen. (Heidi) Heitkamp won on the Native American vote, that they came back and passed the most restrictive voter ID law in the nation."

Heitkamp won her seat by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012. The more stringent voter ID law passed the following year, but was blocked by a federal district court in 2016.

The legislature changed the law after the 2016 challenge, but it was again blocked this year because of its "discriminatory and burdensome impact on Native Americans," according to a district court judge.

Last month, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decision, putting the street address requirement back in place for this year's midterm election.

The Native American Rights Fund's attempt to stop it before the election was unsuccessful, but Campbell says challenges to the law will continue.

"The case is still under consideration in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and so, it's not over yet,” Campbell points out. “It's just that our emergency motion for relief was denied."

Earlier this year, the district court found about 5,000 Native Americans lacked the proper identification to vote under this law, along with about 65,000 other North Dakotans.

The law does allow voters to prove their identity with supplemental documentation, such as a bank statement or utility bill.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND