GOP-dominated House bars tribal IDs for voter registration

February 7, 2020 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Democrats called foul on Friday after the Republican-dominated House shot down their efforts to allow Native Americans use their tribal IDs to register to vote.

The defeat Thursday evening prompted several Democrats to level accusations of voter suppression. Republicans say their resistance is all about keeping voter registration secure.

“The way our voting system is set up does disenfranchise in particular Native American voters,” said Rep. Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat.

In the 2018 general election, tribal communities reported some of the lowest voter turnout figures in the state. Native Americans make up 9% of the state’s total population.


On Thursday, the House considered an amendment to a voter registration bill that would have allowed tribal IDs to be used for voter registration, alongside state drivers’ and nondrivers’ licenses and social security numbers. Republicans defeated the measure, arguing that the secretary of state could not verify the information on the IDs, which are issued by the tribes. They were also concerned that not every tribal ID provides an address, which could allow people who live outside the state to vote in South Dakota elections.

Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, a Mission Democrat who is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said tribes in the state have improved the quality of their IDs in recent years. They now include addresses, holographics and other security measures. They are recognized by federal agencies and can be used to take flights.

Standards for IDs and membership vary from tribe to tribe, said Rep. Tamara St. John, a Sisseton Republican who is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe. She opposed the amendment but called for a measure similar to Washington’s Native American Voting Rights Act that would comprehensively address the issue.

Cwach said state laws don’t recognize the needs of Native Americans and unintentionally hamper voting. He pointed to people who move frequently and may not receive mailed notifications on their voter status.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett is asking the Legislature to pass a proposal this year to allow people to register to vote online. The House passed that bill on Thursday, but several Republicans said they were worried about fraudulent voter registrations.

A Senate committee will consider a bill on Tuesday that would make tribal IDs valid for banking and other business transactions.