Despite National Media Narrative, Native American Voting in North Dakota Is Likely to Break Records


A street sign on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, N.D., Oct. 22, 2018. Under a new law, North Dakotans cannot vote without a residential address; Native Americans, who largely rely on post office boxes, are working to overcome what they see as a clear attempt at voter suppression. (Kristina Barker/The New York Times)

“North Dakota’s Native Americans say new law blocks much of population’s right to vote,” a headline from ABC news states.

But this doesn’t quite jibe with reality.

Far from votes being suppressed, we seem to be on track to set records for turnout in our state’s Native American communities. But don’t take my word for it. On my radio show yesterday North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis (who descended from members of both the Standing Rock Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribes) told me voter turnout on the reservations is strong.

“I’m predicting record turnout,” he told me. Talking about Standing Rock specifically, he says he sees “a lot of energy back home.”

You can argue, fairly, that the turnout is driven by all the last-minute activism around the issue of voter ID’s on the reservations. Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign, along with her allies in various left wing activist groups, have said that North Dakota’s voter ID requirements are motivated by a racist desire to suppress Native American votes.

I think that’s a cynical ploy. If the law is so blatantly racist, where was this hoopla in the spring of last year when the latest iteration of the ID law was passed by the Legislature in Bismarck? If Senator Heitkamp and her fellow liberals care so deeply about this issue, why did they wait until just weeks before election day to begin making a stink?

Still, the action their accusations has inspired action by the tribes and various activist groups, and that seems likely to result in record turnout on the reservations.

That’s a good thing! People who want to vote should vote! But it also makes it very hard to argue that the current ID laws are unworkable to the point of being bigoted from the perspective of Native Americans.

Not when they can turn out in record numbers under current enforcement of the law (which was upheld by a 6-2 vote of the Supreme Court, by the way, with two of the liberal justices on board with the majority).