After Standing Rock, Republicans in the “Deep North” are taking no chances. In April, the Republican-dominated North Dakota legislature passed, and the Republican governor signed, a bill that required voter identification to include a residential street address.
As the Native American Rights Fund explained, “While North Dakota claims that tribal IDs qualify under its law, most tribal IDs do not have a residential address printed on them. This is due, in part, to the fact that the U.S. postal service does not provide residential delivery in these rural Indian communities. Thus, most tribal members use a PO Box. If a tribal ID has an address, it is typically the PO Box address, which does not satisfy North Dakota’s restrictive voter ID law.”
The bill was clearly crafted to disenfranchise Natives at Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain. Like so many reservations, they are blue islands in a red prairie when it comes to elections.
The law was immediately challenged by Native groups, ultimately putting the decision up to various federal judges, all of them older white men appointed by Republican presidents. The first, U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland, appointed in 2002 by George W. Bush, blocked the bill, stating, “The undisputed evidence before the court reveals that Native Americans face substantial and disproportionate burdens in obtaining each form of ID deemed acceptable under the new law…. One reason is that many Native Americans do not have residential addresses, and the Post Office delivers their mail to a post office box.” He also attacked the purported rationale for the law, writing that “voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent.”
On Monday, September 24, Judge Hovland’s exemplary judicial independence was overturned by a three-judge panel of his colleagues, representing the Eighth District Court of Appeals. This will effectively disqualify about half of the Native Americans on reservations in North Dakota. In a crass and blatantly politicized argument, the court essentially acknowledged that these Natives would be prevented from voting, but that it was necessary because the state faced “irreparable harm” from the risk of voter fraud. The court’s ruling concludes a remarkable display of partisan power, with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches working in sync to twist democracy under their control.
Today, just one day later, vote.nd.gov is informing voters that their identification must include a “residential address”.