In their previous session North Dakota lawmakers passed a law tightening up the state’s voter ID laws.
Unfortunately, those reforms were struck down by a federal judge shortly before the 2016 election, so last year the state’s residents cast ballots based on the bad old laws. Which require an ID but, if you don’t have one, allowed you to cast a ballot anyway as long as you sign an affidavit confirming that you are who you say you are and you live where you say you live.
Affidavits which, for the most part, aren’t verified. And if they are ever reviewed, it’s done well after election results have been certified and the winners sworn into office, at which point little can be done even if fraud is detected.
That status quo is obviously not acceptable to anyone concerned with the integrity of the ballot box.
So this legislative session lawmakers again took up the issue, and the reforms they’ve put in place with HB1369 strike the right balance between security and ease of voting.
From the bill as passed, these are the acceptable forms of identification (including some fail safes if your ID is out of date):
The bill also has some special provisions for the elderly, deployed members of the military, and those suffering from maladies which inhibit their ability to travel to the polls:
But this is perhaps the most controversial part. The law, under this bill, would no longer allow for people without valid ID to simply cast a ballot which counts based on an affidavit. They still can still cast a ballot, but that ballot will be set aside until the voter returns with some valid ID at which point it will count:
Not all lawmakers like these changes, of course.
“I don’t believe this will pass constitutional muster again,” Rep. Mary Johnson (R-Fargo) said during floor debate.
That may be the case. The courts have applied some truly absurd standards to voter ID laws in the past.
Voting qualifications in the law – things like age limits residency, and registration requirements – have been with us for pretty much as long as we’ve been voting in America. But for some reason the courts have decided that reasonable efforts to ensure that a given voter meets those qualifications are somehow an unconstitutional limit on voting rights.
Why even have voter eligibility laws if enforcing them is illegal?
My colleague Mike Kapel also argues that the ballot set aside opens up a new opportunity for fraud, which seems like a bit of a stretch. If we’re dealing with crooked poll workers not even our current voting process is safe.
The lawmakers who voted for this legislation are doing the right thing, even if these latest reforms are also struck down by the courts. If voters lose trust in the validity of the ballot box our society is in a lot of trouble, and we aren’t any obligation to wait around until someone violates that trust to the point where it influences an election outcome before we do something to prevent it.
If these changes, too, are rejected by the courts lawmakers ought to just consider moving our state to voter registration.
The bill was finalized and passed by the Legislature yesterday and is on it way to Governor Doug Burgum for signature.