By John Hageman
North Dakota will offer an affidavit to voters who don't bring an identification to the polls, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland's order comes roughly a month and a half after he said North Dakota couldn't implement its voter ID laws without offering some kind of "fail-safe" mechanism. Seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa sued Secretary of State Al Jaeger in January, arguing the voter ID laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2013 and 2015 disproportionately burden Native Americans.
The 2013 change eliminated the option to use an affidavit, which voters could use to swear they were a qualified elector in a particular precinct, as well as the ability for poll workers to vouch for a voter's eligibility.
The order Hovland handed down Tuesday requires the state to offer an affidavit if a voter is not able to provide a valid form of ID. It also lists a current North Dakota driver's license, a non-driver's identification card, a tribal government-issued ID and a long-term care certificate as valid forms of ID, which reflects current law.
Hovland's order came less than two months before the Nov. 8 election. Jim Silrum, the deputy secretary of state, said the order gives election workers some "clarity."
The plaintiffs submitted a proposed order in late August that allowed for poll worker verification, affidavits and more forms of ID to be used at the polls. Still, Matthew Campbell, an attorney for the tribal members, said they were "pleased" the judge ordered the state to provide a "fail-safe" mechanism.
"We were hoping that he would go back to the old system that was in place before the new voter ID laws, but he chose to allow the state to go forward with only the affidavit fail-safe system, which we are definitely pleased with," he said.
The North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party issued a statement Tuesday evening criticizing the state for its proposed order, filed in late August, because it didn't include the poll worker voucher option. Hovland ultimately didn't include the voucher system in his order.
"This is another attempt by Republicans to restrict the voting rights of those North Dakotans who are most likely to use the voucher system," the party's executive director, Robert Haider, said in a statement. "It's no coincidence that the Native voters who are more likely to be disenfranchised by the secretary of state's proposal are the same voters who are less likely to support the Republican agenda."
But in an Aug. 31 court filing, the state argued that "poll worker vouching is riddled with opportunities for allegations of abuse and discrimination" that can undermine the election process, incite litigation and "destroy voter confidence in the fairness of the process.
"Also, even when done completely properly, poll worker verification is not available to all voters, as neighborhoods are increasingly becoming places where people do not know their neighbors well enough to vouch for all of them," the state said, adding that the voucher system provides "no real functional benefit that is not already covered by affidavits."
(c)2016 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)