Earlier this week, the courts struck down the new Texas voter ID law. It is the fifth time the Texas attempts have been struck down in court. Lawmakers in that state keep trying to critique their law to create some flexibility while still restricting some people’s votes. However, judges keep overturning these attempts because of the underlying discriminatory intent. This makes me wonder if North Dakota’s 2017 voting changes will be challenged in court.
Let’s take a step back to November of 2012. Heidi Heitkamp beat then Congressman Rick Berg to become North Dakota’s United States Senator. Her narrow victory was secured by approximately 3,000 votes. It was due in no small part to the surge in support and votes from our Native American neighbors. This left Republican lawmakers furious as the U.S. Senate race was all but certainly Berg’s they thought. Heitkamp’s victory must have been a fluke they thought.
If you can’t win the game, change the rules. That is exactly what transpired in the 2013 legislative session following Heitkamp’s victory. Republican lawmakers amended a bill with generic language from ALEC to create new voting requirements. This push followed years of bragging by Republicans of how North Dakota’s voting system and integrity were top in the nation. Secretary of State Al Jaeger was the cheerleader of our voting system in those years. He disappeared during this partisan push in the legislature, a move that could be viewed as the Legislature questioning his personal handling of elections in our state.
Fast forward to August of 2016 and one election later. Following the confusing restrictions that were inconsistently applied across voting districts in the 2014 election, North Dakota’s voting requirements were struck down in court. The reason? The Republican law put undue burdens on Native Americans to vote in North Dakota elections. In the election that followed the court ruling three months later, 16,000 North Dakotans voted by affidavit. These votes may not have been counted had the court the 2013 law not been overturned.
In April of this year, Republican lawmakers again passed new voting requirements. Going back to the system that was championed prior to the 2012 election was not an option for them. Similar to the repeated attempts in Texas, the North Dakota Legislature wanted to restrict voting but with a more lax law. Something they think would uphold in court. Under current law you can vote without an updated ID, but must return within a specific time frame written in law to present a current ID.
I spoke with Attorney Tom Dickson following the passage of the 2017 law. Dickson was the Bismarck attorney who successfully halted the unconstitutional voting requirements of the 2013 law. He suggested the new 2017 requirements would likely not uphold if it were challenged in court. He predicted a challenge would be brought forward prior to the 2018 election.