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Native Americans not stripped of voting rights in North Dakota

August 21, 2019 GMT

CLAIM: Court upholds North Dakota law stripping voting rights from Native Americans.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Native Americans are not barred from voting in North Dakota. However, a court ruling earlier this month upheld a state rule that requires voters to show an ID that lists a residential address, which can be a barrier for those living on tribal lands.

THE FACTS: Posts circulating widely on Facebook wrongly assert that Native Americans have been stripped of voting rights in North Dakota.   

Native Americans are still eligible to vote in the state.

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A change to North Dakota’s voter ID law, however, has been criticized for potentially suppressing Native American votes.  

North Dakota law requires voters to provide an ID listing an address, but not all residents on tribal land have one. Before 2013, voters who did not have one could sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility.

That provision was removed by state Republicans after Democrat Heidi Heitkamp narrowly claimed a U.S. Senate seat in 2012 with the help of votes cast by Native Americans, who make up five percent of the state’s population. 

The rule change faces legal challenges because many living on reservations use post office boxes, not street addresses.  

Last October, weeks before the midterm elections, the U.S. Supreme Court responded to an emergency appeal from the tribes by upholding the state’s voter ID rules.

“The Supreme Court made the ruling and everybody was scrambling,” said Dan Nelson, the executive director of the Lakota Law Project, which helped the Standing Rock Reservation identify addresses for tribal members and print new IDs that met state requirements.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld state voter ID laws earlier this month in a ruling, spurring the inaccurate statements on social media.

Federally recognized tribes can assign tribal members addresses. The North Dakota Secretary of State also told voters in the largely rural state that they can establish or identify an address for their home by contacting the county’s 911 coordinator.  

Nelson said nonprofits and tribes still need to work with Native American voters to establish addresses and issue state-recognized IDs so they can vote in 2020 but the timing challenges will not be as difficult.

The Associated Press reported last year that at least dozens of Native Americans were unable to cast ballots because of the new rules but turnout was up in two counties with Native American reservations.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536