Dems say extra work coming to foster Native American voting

September 26, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democrats are targeting American Indian communities in a get-out-the-vote campaign that includes helping tribal members satisfy new proof-of-identity requirements needed to cast a ballot in the state.

The effort comes after a setback this week in federal appeals court for a group of Native Americans who filed a lawsuit three years ago over North Dakota’s expanded voter identification laws. The tribal members claim the laws are a form of voter suppression.

Scott McNeil, who heads the state Democratic Party, said organizers are working within each of the state’s five American Indian reservations “to make sure folks have the materials needed to vote.”

American Indians tend to vote for Democrats and it’s common for the party to visit reservations encouraging tribal members head to the polls. But they’re especially important this year, as Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is in a close race with Republican Kevin Cramer that could help determine control of the Senate.

Democrats are now scrambling to make sure tribal members make it to the polls and are qualified to vote with required identification. Tribal members’ strong support for Heitkamp played a big role in her election to the U.S. Senate in 2012 by fewer than 3,000 votes.

State Rep. Josh Boschee, a Democrat running against Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger this fall, said he’s been visiting the reservations for the past six months to encourage tribal turnout at the polls.

The effort gained greater importance this week after a three-judge panel of 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a lower-court injunction that would have required the state to accept forms of identification and supporting documents that included a “current mailing address,” such as a post office box, instead of requiring a “current residential street address.” Those sometimes aren’t assigned on American Indian reservations.

“People are excited to vote on the reservations,” Boschee said. “Now it’s educating them on whether they are ready to vote.”

North Dakota has required voters to provide ID since 2004. Voters without an ID were allowed to sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility to vote, but the Legislature removed that provision in 2013 shortly after Heitkamp’s win. The GOP-controlled Legislature has said Heitkamp’s victory had no bearing on the legislation.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said Wednesday that county auditors have notified election officials that residential street addresses have been assigned on all North Dakota reservations.

But Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, said that isn’t the case.

“In Indian Country, some people still lack physical addresses,” he said.

Russ Lindblom, a North Dakota Association of Counties 911 project manager, also said there could be dwellings in the state that still do not have addresses assigned.

Silrum said if a residence does not have a street address on a reservation, elections officials may consider an affidavit from the tribe that describes the situation.

“Giving a location description probably would be enough,” he said.