North Dakota Tribes Win Voter ID Fight

By: - February 14, 2020 12:00 am

Just weeks before the 2018 midterms, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a North Dakota law requiring IDs with street addresses. The lawsuit came from individual members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. The state and other local tribes agreed to a settlement this week. Blake Nicholson/The Associated Press

North Dakota tribes won a major voting rights victory this week when the state agreed to allow Native Americans living on reservations to vote without an ID that shows a street address.

On reservation land across the country, many tribal members lack traditional addresses, which can be a major barrier to the ballot in states that have voter ID laws.

The Spirit Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe settled lawsuits Thursday with North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, agreeing to a federally enforced consent decree that requires the state to train poll workers and work with tribes to inform members that they can vote without a traditional address.

The law in question, which left tribes scrambling to provide required voter identification for their members before the November 2018 primaries, was passed by the Republican-held legislature shortly after then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp won her seat in 2012 with the support of Native Americans. Heitkamp lost in 2018.

Now, voters without a traditional address will be able to point on a map to prove their residency at their polling place — a technique that was used by tribes in the area since the midterms.

Native voting rights group Four Directions worked with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to create an emergency addressing system just a few days before the 2018 elections. After about 20 tribal members pointed to their residences on a map, Four Directions assigned new addresses that fit the state’s new standard and were officially notarized by the tribe. In other tribes in the state, leaders helped print new tribal IDs that met the state’s requirements.

The settlement announced this week concludes a long battle in that state over Native voting access that is playing out in other states.

Voting rights advocates elsewhere are searching for ways to assign addresses to rural, indigenous communities ahead of the 2020 general election, knowing that some county and state governments could crack down on the use of non-traditional addresses on reservations.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.