Voter Suppression and Continued Confusion Led to Latest Lawsuit

Following this month’s Supreme Court decision, North Dakota Native Americans rushed to adhere to the new voter requirements. They were told by the state’s top election officials if they didn’t currently meet the new requirements to follow a makeshift process and they’d be able to vote. We are now learning even after completing the process they were instructed to follow, some are still being denied their vote. As a result, on October 30th another lawsuit was filed. The continued confusion and denials are either blatant voter suppression or complete incompetence by state election officials.

The newly enforced requirements mandate a physical address be presented to vote. The problem is not all tribal residents have a physical address. They use PO boxes. Native Americans were told if they didn’t have a physical address to obtain one from their 911 county coordinator. They were instructed to do this by the Secretary of State, the chief election official in North Dakota. The Bismarck Tribune reports even after following the direction of the Secretary of State, voters are being denied their right to vote.

Below are troubling examples reported by Amy Dalrymple in the Bismarck Tribune:

  • Dion Jackson, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe, was denied an absentee ballot because the county auditor said his residential address does not match the one in the North Dakota Department of Transportation database. However, Jackson has that address on a state-issued ID and receives packages from the UPS and FedEX at that address.
  • Douglas Yankton, vice chairman of the Spirit Lake Tribe, was issued a state ID with an address in Oberon and has used that address for 18 years. When his girlfriend, Sara Hesse, called the 911 coordinator to obtain her address at the same home in 2015, she was provided with a Fort Totten address. The Secretary of State’s online search tool for identifying the correct polling place recognizes neither address.
  • Terry Yellow Fat, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, obtained a street address from the 911 coordinator. But he was told by a UPS driver that the address belongs to a liquor store down the street. He wishes to vote but he can’t meet the requirement because the 911 coordinator has not issued him an accurate address.

What is being done to correct this? Very little from those in charge of the process. A shoulder shrug from Secretary of State Al Jaeger who again seems lost in the process. His office has provided little guidance. There have also been attempts by Republican supporters to blame our Native American neighbors for what was imposed on them.

According to NBC News, “Republican state Rep. Dan Ruby told The Nation that his party’s loss “shined a light” on the issue of strengthening voter ID registration and made it a priority, but denied any bill was introduced in order to suppress the Native vote.” An admission that losing the 2012 election set the wheel in motion. Change the rules in hopes to change the outcome in future elections. 

To recap, Native American voters are attempting to follow the rules, regulations, and requirements established by the state and they’re still being denied their vote. We are days away from the midterm election. Even though Republican officials and supporters claim their intent was never to disenfranchise Native American voters, they now know and have evidence their actions have done just that. They appear to be doing nothing to fix the struggle they created. It is either voter suppression or incompetence. Both can be corrected.

Tyler Axness