North Dakota Tribes In Race Against Time To Provide New Voter IDs After GOP Law Upheld

Native Americans are scrambling to get IDs with street addresses even if they live where there are no street names. There's little time before the midterm elections.

The Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American tribes in North Dakota are rushing to get new voter IDs to members after the Supreme Court earlier this month upheld a lower court ruling supporting a burdensome election law.

That meant that, just weeks before the midterm elections, every voter in North Dakota suddenly needed to have identification with a street address — which tribes had challenged in court as discriminatory. Native Americans on reservations in the state rarely have addresses in remote areas with no street names, so the law is a particular challenge for them. Home locations are often described using landmarks, such as natural features, schools or businesses, and residents rely on post office boxes for mail.

Voter suppression is a very real thing,” said Standing Rock activist Chase Iron Eyes. But it’s a testament to the power of the vote that “they’re trying so hard to suppress it. When you suppress a people, they rise.”

North Dakota is the only state in the nation without voter registration, and for years if there was any problem, residents only had to sign an affidavit saying they were eligible to vote. That was changed by the Republican state legislature.

The refusal of the nation’s top court after a challenge by the tribes now threatens to disenfranchise thousands of North Dakota Native Americans amid an extremely tight Senate race between Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp and GOP challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer.

Heitkamp won the last time by 3,000 votes with support from the state’s Native communities, which typically vote Democratic.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a dissenting Supreme Court opinion that the “risk of voter confusion appears severe here.”

Tribes are racing now to get new IDs as quickly as possible to residents. They can use new street addresses assigned through the street’s 911 system, but it’s complicated for an individual. And reaching every voter in remote areas who now needs a new ID by tribes can be a daunting logistical challenge. Many residents are unaware they need a new identification.

On the reservation belonging to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, about 100 people are coming in for free IDs each day, according to the director of the tribe’s motor vehicle department, which is issuing them, The Associated Press reported. But there are 19,000 residents on the reservation. 

Tribal efforts to protect their votes are being supported by the Lakota People’s Law Project and the Four Directions organization.

The Standing Rock tribe has set up a special hotline (701-854-VOTE) and can instantly create new, free Tribal ID Cards with residential street addresses. But they, like other tribes, need to get the IDs into people’s hands.

They’ve launched a GoFundMe page to pay for their voter ID operation. By Monday night they had raised $125,000 of a goal of $200,000.

“There’s a whole lot of baling wire and duct tape being put into place, because the Legislature, attorney general, and secretary of state decided they’d try to take out the Indian vote,” Bret Healy, a Four Directions consultant, told the AP.