Native Americans' Last-Ditch Effort Fails to Block North Dakota Voter ID Law

by | November 2, 2018 AT 10:10 AM

By April Baumgarten

A last-minute attempt by tribal leaders to suspend a North Dakota law that requires voters to have a valid ID with a residential street address has failed.

U.S. District Chief Judge Daniel Hovland denied a temporary restraining order filed by the Spirit Lake Sioux and six individuals against Secretary of State Al Jaeger, according to a news release issued Thursday. The 41-page restraining order, which was filed Monday, was meant to suspend the North Dakota voting law that makes ID cards with post office box addresses invalid at the polls.

The ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with North Dakota in early October, stating the voter ID law passed by the Legislature in April 2013 was constitutional.

Before the law was enacted, IDs with P.O. boxes were acceptable, but the legislation specifically banned that type of address.

Plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case argued about 18 percent of Native Americans don't have an ID with residential addresses, compared to 11 percent for non-Native voters. North Dakota has about 70,000 voters who do not have a correct ID, Jamie Azure, tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, said in a Washington Post article.

The gap has made Native American leaders and critics of the law claim it discriminates against and disenfranchises tribal residents.

The Supreme Court ruling prompted the Secretary of State's Office to work with tribes to get residents street addresses, using information from county 911 coordinators. Though tribal governments have worked to issue IDs to residents for free in recent weeks, some have said the addresses they were given do not match their home addresses.

In a lawsuit filed this week by Spirit Lake members against Jaeger in his capacity as the secretary of state, one tribal member said she was denied an absentee ballot because "the state's system considered the address invalid."

"There is therefore no guarantee that even following the system proposed by Mr. Jaeger that Native Americans will not be denied from the ballot box," the lawsuit said.

The motion to suspend the voter ID law called North Dakota's implementation of the requirement "unplanned, untested and broken."

"Voters whose state-issued or tribal IDs list what they know to be their current residential address have had their absentee ballots rejected as having 'invalid' addresses," the motion said. "This problem threatens hundreds if not thousands more on Election Day."

In his denial order, Hovland said the allegations in the complaint give the court "great cause for concern" that will require "a detailed response" from Jaeger. Issuing an order this close to the election would cause "much confusion," Hovland said.

"In this case, early voting has already begun," Hovland wrote. "Election Day is less than one week away."

Jaeger, who is up for re-election, encouraged eligible voters to "make their voice heard." He declined to comment on the restraining order or new lawsuit.

(c)2018 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)