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American Indian Groups Reach Settlement over ND Voter-ID Law

North Dakota has required photo identification of its residents to cast election ballots since 2004. (Adobe Stock)
North Dakota has required photo identification of its residents to cast election ballots since 2004. (Adobe Stock)
February 14, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Years of legal wrangling between the state of North Dakota and American Indian tribes appear to be over. The two sides have reached a settlement over enforcement of a voter ID law.

The statute requires residents to provide a street address in order to cast a ballot, but tribal leaders argued that the law amounts to voter suppression because many of their members don't have assigned addresses.

Attorney Tim Purdon, who represents one of the tribes involved in the lawsuits, said this is a big victory.

"It shifts some of the burdens onto the state to get those addresses assigned in time for people to cast ballots that count," said Purdon, a partner at the law firm Robins Kaplan, LLP.

One of the provisions allows voters who don't have or don't know their street address to show their residence on a map. They then would be given a "set-aside" ballot to be verified shortly after the election. North Dakota requires voters to show identification since the state doesn't have a registration system. Supporters of the law have said it wasn't meant to suppress votes, but as a way to prevent fraud.

Tribes involved in the process still need to sign off on the plan. Purdon said timing of the announcement is crucial because it paves the way for affected residents to cast their ballots in a high-profile election.

"I think that the scheduling of this case for trial in May was the court telling the parties that it wanted to get these issues resolved before the 2020 election," he said, "and I think, in response to that, the state was motivated to enter settlement agreements. It is our desire to get these protections in place in time for 2020 elections."

Earlier this week, a federal judge overseeing one of the lawsuits challenging the voter ID law refused a request by the state to dismiss the suit.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND