In a critical decision that may very well effect control of the US Senate, the US Supreme Court today rejected an emergency appeal by Native Americans in North Dakota regarding their ability to vote in November.
Control of the Senate is up for grabs in this election. North Dakota is one of the key battleground states. At the moment, experts predict a very tight race. They currently forecast that the Republican challenger Kevin Cramer will edge Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp 51% to 29%, or just 7,500 votes out of 300,000 votes cast.
North Dakota is a red state, going overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. There are just two counties that went blue. They weren’t the cities; they were the Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain Indian Reservations. Furthermore, some of these areas went 90% for Democrats. Indian reservations are blue islands on a red prairie.
The North Dakota governor and legislature understands this all too well. After the battle at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which included anti-Native racial confrontations in Bismarck and left feelings raw, North Dakota’s rulers found the perfect solution. To combat “voter fraud”, they passed a law requiring voters to have an official identification card (e.g. driver’s license or tribal id card) with your residential street address on it. 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.” If you’ve ever tried to use Google Maps on a reservation, you’ll know what they’re talking about.
As explained in this blog post from last month, the Native American Rights Fund, led be attorney John Echohawk (Pawnee), appealed to the District Court and won. However, this was appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, and overturned by a 2-1 vote. Last week, the Natives appealed to the US Supreme Court for an emergency stay, arguing that:
- Early voting had already begun;
- Changing the rules again would cause confusion;
- The new ruling would affect 5,000 Natives without qualifying id (and 2,300 of them without even supporting id), preventing them from voting.
The case documents are available here.
- Echohawk’s eloquent and compelling petition to the court can be found here.
- North Dakota’s reply is here.
- Echohawk’s final rebuttal is here.
On October 9, the Native’s emergency appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. Because it was an emergency appeal, we do not know the vote. We do know that Justice Gorsuch issued the rejection, without an explanation, and thus voted for the rejection. We also know that Justices Ginsberg and Kagan voted for the Natives and wrote a dissenting opinion. And we know that Kavanaugh did not participate. But even with a 4-4 vote, the Eight District Court’s rejection of the Natives would be upheld.
And thus the Supreme Court has already played a critical role in November’s election.
UPDATE ON OCTOBER 11:
Here is the advice that @NDNativeVote is giving for those that do not have any documents with their street address or who may not even know what their street address is:
- Call the North Dakota Association of Counties and ask for the phone number of the 911 Coordinator for your county. A list of 911 Coordinators by county is also available here. For Rolette County (Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation), the 911 Coordinator is Curt Bonn, 701-477-0911, firstname.lastname@example.org. For Sioux County (Standing Rock Indian Reservation), the 911 Coordinator is Frank Landeis, 701-854-3481, email@example.com.
- Call the 911 Coordinator for your county and describe the location of your home.
- They will assign you an address and send you a letter confirming your address.
- When the letter arrives, take it to the local DMV (which may be 75 miles away if you’re on a reservation), pay $8, and get a state ID with your address on it (no estimate of when that will arrive).
- If you already have an ID with your PO Box on it, you can use the 911 letter as supplemental documentation.
- It’s also possible that, in your county, the 911 Coordinator does not assign addresses, but they will be able to direct you to the person who does.
Easy as pie. Election day is November 6.
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, here is an official statement from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:
BREAKING NEWS ON OCTOBER 18: ND tribes will issue the necessary ID at the polling stations.