Native Americans defeat GOP's racist voter ID law in North Dakota

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North Dakota will accept tribal IDs as identification at the voting booth moving forward.

North Dakota was forced this week to allow Native American tribal IDs as acceptable identification at the voting booth, the Campaign Legal Center announced on Thursday.

The decision is the culmination of a four-year legal battle that began in January 2016, in response to the state's stringent voter ID law.

"It has always been our goal to ensure that every native person in North Dakota has an equal opportunity to vote, and we have achieved that today," Matthew Campbell, attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said in a press release. "We thank the Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the individual native voters that stood up for the right to vote."

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The Native American Rights Fund, along with the Campaign Legal Center, were plaintiffs in lawsuits targeting the ID law.

Under the GOP-backed law, North Dakota residents were forced to present identification with a street address in order to vote. However, many Native Americans in the state live on reservations that do not even have residential addresses, thereby disenfranchising them from the ability to vote.

"This restrictive voter ID law put North Dakota beyond the norms of voter ID laws and violates the constitutional rights of the state's citizens," the Native American Rights Fund wrote on its website. "Just like North Dakota's previous law, which was found unconstitutional by a federal court, this law makes it harder for some citizens—specifically Native American citizens—to exercise their right to vote."

On Thursday, the North Dakota Secretary of State agreed to enter a legally binding consent decree allowing tribal IDs as an acceptable for of voter ID. Further, according to the Campaign Legal Center, the state will work to distribute free non-driver IDs on every reservation in the state within 30 days of an election.

"North Dakota is moving in the right direction to remove unfair barriers to the ballot box," Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), a staunch voting rights advocate, said in an email.

Sewell noted that lawsuits are "slow and costly," calling on the U.S. Senate to pass "pass H.R. 4 so that these kinds of voter suppression tactics are stopped before they can go into effect and sway an election."

H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would strengthen the Voting Rights Act and protect citizens across the country from unfair suppression efforts. The bill passed the House by a 228-187 vote in December.

Voting rights advocates and Democratic organizations have been ramping up efforts to fight various Republican-backed voter suppression laws across the country in recent years. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made an eight-figure investment in those efforts, according to a January 2020 memo.

That push appears to be paying off.

In November, a judge ordered the state of Florida to stop rigging the ballot by listing Republican candidates first, a tactic that increases support for those candidates by up to 5%.

In January, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned a key part of a Republican-backed voter suppression law that required residents to have a photo ID or another form of ID like a bank statement to cast a ballot. The measure forced those without a photo ID to sign a form acknowledging they did not have one.

The Court called the law "misleading" and "contradictory."

Also in January, a federal court blocked a Republican-backed voter suppression law in Arizona in part because it has a discriminatory impact on Native American, Hispanic, and African American voters.

Democrats scored a victory in South Carolina the same month, eliminating the requirement that voters provide their full, nine-digit Social Security number in order to register to vote.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.