State of North Dakota is Trying to Have it Both Ways on Voter ID

How can the State of North Dakota simultaneously say they’re going to change a major component of a law, but at the same time push in the courts that nothing is wrong with that law? That appears to be what the State is attempting to do with the latest developments in the voter ID lawsuit. Meanwhile, ND Native Vote announced its plan to increase Native American voting in 2020. Time is ticking in yet another election year.

Let’s take a trip back to 2018. Following a Supreme Court decision, North Dakota Native Americans rushed to adhere to the new voter requirements passed by the state Legislature. They were told by the state’s top election official in Secretary of State Al Jaeger if they didn’t currently meet the new requirements to follow a makeshift process and they’d be able to vote. Even after following Jaeger’s recommendations, Native American voters were being turned away. As a result, on October 30th, 2018 another lawsuit was filed.

The new requirements mandated a physical address be presented to vote. The problem is not all tribal residents have a physical address. They use PO boxes. What was 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 seemed lost in the election process he oversees.

At the time, NBC News reported, “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 Senate election set the wheel in motion. Change the rules in hopes to change the outcome in future elections. 


What happened in November of 2018? Native American voters organized and turned out to vote following an expensive effort by the Heidi Heitkamp reelection campaign and grassroots activists from our tribal neighbors. The outcome? Heitkamp lost to Kevin Cramer. North Dakota Republicans finally got the outcome they wished they’d gotten in 2012.

In the ongoing lawsuit, the State tried to say that since the tribal members who brought the lawsuit were able to vote in the last election, obviously the law wasn’t illegal and the lawsuit should be dismissed. The Court emphatically disagreed. On Monday, a federal judge in Bismarck “rejected the request by the state of North Dakota to dismiss a tribal lawsuit challenging North Dakota’s voter ID law.” The lawsuit continues.

Here is where it gets a little interesting. Last week, the State announced what appears to be walking back from some of the harshest parts of the voter ID law. Tribes could now validate “set-asides” themselves. “Ballots marked by tribal members may now be verified by the tribe in conjunction with a local election board.” Sort of sounds like the ability to “vouch” for someone, right? In essence, taking steps to get back to how things were before the voter ID law was passed and signed. 

The State of North Dakota is trying to have it both ways on voter ID. On the one hand, the State is arguing that the address requirement of the voter ID law is legal in court. On the other hand, admit there are issues with the requirement and create exceptions. Will the State push forward in another election year riddled with confusion from the State’s top election officer? Or will the tribes prevail in the courts? Time is ticking. 

Tyler Axness