The Native American Rights Fund, based in Colorado, has filed suit on behalf of a group of Native American plaintiffs from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation over North Dakota’s voter ID laws.
Bismarck attorney Tom Dickson is the in-state counsel for the plaintiffs.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger was served the papers for the lawsuit today. You can read them below. “I do not have a comment,” Jaeger told me of the matter. “We just received it at 10:30 this morning and will be reviewing it, along with legal counsel, over the next several days.”
According to a press release on the lawsuit posted on the NARF website, they’re arguing that the state’s voter ID laws are too restrictive because the the list of allowable identification documents is too narrow and too expensive for some Native Americans to obtain. They also complain that there is no fall-back method for voting provisionally.
Many Native Americans living on Indian reservations in North Dakota do not have qualifying IDs, such as driver’s licenses or state ID cards containing a residential address. Thus, in both the primary and general election in 2014, many qualified North Dakota Native American voters were disenfranchised because their IDs did not list their residential address.
The lawsuit alleges that North Dakota’s new voter ID requirements limit the right to vote arbitrarily and unnecessarily, and disproportionately burden Native American voters in North Dakota. The burdens are substantial for a number of Native Americans who cannot afford to drive to the nearest driver’s license site (“DMV”). There are no DMV locations on any Indian reservations in North Dakota, and for many Native Americans, a DMV location may be over 60 miles away. Many Native Americans live below the poverty line, and do not have dependable access to transportation or cannot afford travel to a distant DMV location.
The argument that the state’s voter ID laws are a disproportionate burden to Native Americans seems strange to me. If we concede for a moment that North Dakota’s voter ID laws are too burdensome for those living in poverty, are we arguing that it is only a problem for Native Americans living in poverty? There is no question that Native Americans, unfortunately, are disproportionately impoverished. But that doesn’t mean, as this lawsuit suggests, that Native Americans were specifically singled out for discrimination.
Nor do I accept that obtaining valid voter identification in our state is too difficult. Via the Secretary of State’s website, here are the acceptable forms of voter identification for voting in person or by mail (in ND anyone can vote by mail for any reason):
Getting a non-driver’s identification card is pretty simple, too. The steps are available on the DMV website. The fee is $8, though I think that can be waived if the person requesting ID attests to poverty.
The lawsuit describes the state’s voter ID requirements as “strict,” but that hardly seems to be the case. Heck, in most states you have to register to vote, not just show up on election day with an ID.
If groups like NARF are really concerned about Native Americans voting, maybe instead of spending money on lawyers and lawsuits they should instead focus on helping the scant few Native Americans in our state who a) do not already have a driver’s license and b) cannot get themselves to a DMV office to go through the few and simple steps of getting a non-driving ID.