Tribes unite to combat new North Dakota voter ID law

After an eleventh-hour decision that could disqualify many Native American voters, tribal governments find their own solutions.

 

Last week, in the Bureau of Indian Affairs enrollment office on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, a squat printer noisily churned out a new ID for Howard Eagleman, an enrolled tribal member with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. It wasn’t all that different from Eagleman’s last ID. But now, it listed a residential address instead of a P.O. box.

Under a recently upheld North Dakota law, Eagleman could not vote in the Nov. 6 midterms if his ID lacked that information. “It’s a hassle, but you do it,” Eagleman said, sliding the new card into his wallet. “They didn’t ask for it last time.”

Before casting their ballots, many more residents of Standing Rock and the four other tribal nations in North Dakota will have to follow Eagleman’s lead. On Oct. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s long-embattled voter ID law requiring proof of a residential address. This is a change from the June primaries, when a federal district court ordered the state to accept the P.O. box numbers that many tribal members use.

A bulletin board at the Bureau of Indian Affairs enrollment office in Fort Yates, North Dakota, instructs voters the necessary protocol to make sure they‘re eligible to vote under current regulations.
Elena Saavedra Buckley/High Country News

According to the Native American Rights Fund, the law could disenfranchise the thousands of tribal members who lack street addresses. With a limited number of county officials available to assign new addresses and issue documents before Election Day, the tribes are scrambling to do it themselves. In a statement, they promised to act “united against North Dakota’s suppressive voter ID law.” 

Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith called the Supreme Court ruling “depressing,” but not surprising. “Each barrier they put up, we’re getting over them and staying positive,” he said in his office in Fort Yates. The tribes will spend the next two weeks printing new IDs for free. (At the Turtle Mountain Reservation, the machines overheated and started melting the cards.) They’ll also issue temporary documents showing proof of address, using an addressing system organized by the South Dakota-based advocacy group Four Directions. 

In past elections, voters from the Standing Rock, Fort Berthold, Spirit Lake, Lake Traverse and Turtle Mountain Indian reservations helped create consistent blue patches in North Dakota’s otherwise crimson map. In 2012, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won a U.S. Senate race by only 3,000 ballots, a margin often attributed to Native American support. She is up for re-election, but polls show her trailing Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer.   

Secretary of State Al Jaeger denies any intent to disenfranchise Native American voters. He explained that the law merely ends certain voting practices — like letting voters sign affidavits as proof of residence — that might lead to untraceable ballots. Supporters claim the law is a necessary protection against voter fraud, though there’s no evidence of widespread fraud in the state. 

“There was no point to target anybody,” he said. “If anything, this would probably affect more people from the oil fields voting than on reservations.”

In the coming weeks, groups at Standing Rock will print more IDs, knock on doors and organize phone banks. Right now, the election results are not on Chairman Faith’s mind. “Whoever wins, wins,” he said. “But we also have a right to vote for whoever we want, and we can’t be challenged every time.”

Elena Saavedra Buckley is an editorial intern at High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...