Native Americans move to frontlines in battle over voting rights

Reuters,  June 3, 2016

North Dakota is one of 17 states that have new voting restrictions in place since the last presidential contest. Five federal lawsuits involving Native Americans have been filed since the Supreme Court decision, including three this year alone. Suits in North Dakota, Utah, South Dakota and Arizona claim changes to voting rules in those states disproportionately affect Native Americans, an allegation the states and counties deny.

At issue in North Dakota are revisions to state elections law that eliminated a provision that had allowed people without proper identification to vote if they were recognized by a poll worker or if they signed an affidavit swearing to their identity.

Elvis Norquay and six other members of the Chippewa tribe sued the secretary of state in January in U.S. District Court in North Dakota. They said they were refused the right to vote in November 2014 because many old tribal IDs such as Norquay’s don't list a current residential address.

It says some tribal members can't afford a new tribal ID or struggle to obtain proper identification because there are no state offices that provide driver's licenses on the reservations.

In sparsely populated states such as North Dakota, with just 739,000 people, congressional elections have been decided by just a few thousand votes.

Rolette County, surrounding Norquay’s reservation, is one of two counties in the state where about 75 percent of the population is Native American. Those two counties were the only places in North Dakota that gave President Barack Obama more than 70 percent of the vote in 2012.

After the changes in the ID law were implemented in North Dakota, voter turnout in Rolette County dropped by more than 12 percentage points between the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections, more than any other county in the state, election data from the secretary of state's office shows.

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