Another American Indian tribe in North Dakota is challenging the state’s voter identification requirements, which many Native Americans allege discriminate against them and suppress their vote.
The Standing Rock Sioux has signed on to a lawsuit that the Spirit Lake Sioux filed just days before last November’s general election, challenging the state requirement that a voter ID include a provable street address. Tribes allege that disenfranchises members who live on high-poverty reservations where street addresses are uncommon or unknown and where post office boxes are the primary addresses.
Spirit Lake sued in the wake of an October U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar lawsuit members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa filed in 2016. Justices allowed the state to continue requiring street addresses on voter IDs, though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a dissent that “the risk of voter confusion appears severe here.”
A federal judge refused Spirit Lake’s request to block the street address law for the November election. But tribes, with the help of advocacy groups, had already mounted an intense effort to get Native Americans to the polls with proper identification. It was largely successful, though an amended lawsuit complaint filed by the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribes last Thursday indicates it also was expensive, costing the two tribes a combined $14,000.
“That’s money that doesn’t go to other needs of the tribal communities in North Dakota,” plaintiffs’ attorney Timothy Purdon said in an interview Tuesday. “These are financially challenged communities. Those are dollars not going to early childhood education, or health care, or whatever.”
The lawsuit seeks to have the residential address requirement as it applies to Native American voters ruled unconstitutional and a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. The state maintains everyone has a street address via the statewide 911 system, but the lawsuit argues the system is “incomplete, contradictory and prone to error on reservations.”
The state in January asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit , arguing in part that the state is immune from such lawsuits in federal court and that the Spirit Lake tribe doesn’t have standing to sue for several reasons.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger maintains that the state’s voter ID requirements are aimed at preventing voting fraud. He declined comment Tuesday on the Standing Rock tribe joining the lawsuit, saying the state doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Some American Indians and advocates believe the Republican-dominated state government wants to subdue the vote of Native Americans, who tend to support Democrats. Native Americans make up only about 5 percent of North Dakota’s population but were key in a 2012 U.S. Senate win by Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. The GOP-controlled Legislature decided just a few months later to stop allowing voters without proper ID to cast ballots simply by signing an affidavit attesting to their eligibility. Lawmakers denied that Heitkamp’s win had anything to do with the decision.
Last year’s election featured a race between Heitkamp and GOP challenger Kevin Cramer that was seen as critical to Republicans’ chances to keep control of the Senate. Cramer won handily despite a large voter turnout on reservations.