Four years and a settlement later: a North Dakota voter ID law will still impact the Native American vote

KXNet,  May 21, 2020

"A 2018 federal judge’s ruling may still be impacting Native Americans’ right to vote in North Dakota.

The law requires all voters to show an ID with a current address at the polls, impacting a large portion of Tribal members who do not have a permanent address.

Although a settlement was reached between Tribes and the state, it doesn’t exactly work during a mail-in only election.

Instead of permanent addresses, many tribal members only have P.O. boxes on their tribal IDs.

Although the ID is acceptable, the address is not. The settlement, reached in April, allows Native American voters who do not have or do not know their residential street address, to point out where they live on a map.

But, with no polls open for June, a lot of questions remain.

'I can’t speak on behalf of the number of people that did not get an application for a ballot, simply because at the front end of things they have post office box mailing. What we’re trying to argue here is even if you get your mail by post office box, that’s not supposed to restrict us from being able to vote,' explained MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox.

The North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger says although your ballot application has to have some sort of residential address on it, your ballot itself can be mailed to a P.O. box.

So what is the Secretary of State’s office doing to make sure everyone gets an application and can fill it out properly?

'The Department of Transportation, in fact, is going out to all of the tribal locations within the next week to make sure that non-driver identification cards are issued. We’re in contact with the tribal governments to make sure all of those situations are covered because that’s part of the settlement agreement,' Jaeger added.

But the problem, according to Chairman Fox, is that one day, in one location, on short notice, likely won’t be enough to help all Tribal members in need of assistance.

He says tribal officials are working on a more on-going solution.

'We’re going to make that effort that if a person doesn’t have a physical address on their current Tribal ID, we will help them go ahead and get a new ID that shows physically where they live on the reservation. You know, we’re not just going to limit that to a one-day situation. That’s going to be Monday thru Friday, and thereafter as necessary,' he added.

At the end of the day, without a doubt, Chairman Fox says, 'It is going to cause a situation where Native American people are not going to vote at the numbers we should be voting at.'

He says although the Tribe hasn’t made any big objections to the process for the June election due to time constraints, the Chairman says he expects a totally different situation come November, or he will raise opposition.

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Chairman Fox says back in the November 2018 election, tribal officials poured funds and their time into making proper IDs for everyone. And because people were told they couldn’t vote, they showed up in droves.

But, he says as the access issue continues for years, that spirit will dwindle and he’s afraid the opposite effect will happen."

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Hannah Piercey

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