A federal judge has denied am emergency request to prevent North Dakota’s draconian voter ID law from disenfranchising possibly thousands of Native Americans in the coming midterm elections.
Under the law, voters must present an ID that shows their current residential street address. But critics say the law intentionally targets Native Americans who live on rural reservations that have no street names. Before the law was enacted in 2012, people who lived on reservations were able to list their P.O. boxes in order to vote, but now they must get a state-issued or tribal ID card in order to vote, something that many don’t have the means to acquire.
As many as 5,000 of the state’s tribal citizens live on reservations and they overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
In his ruling, North Dakota U.S. District Court Chief Judge Daniel L. Hovland said that allegations of voter suppression gave him “great cause for concern.”
“The litany of problems identified in this new lawsuit were clearly predictable and certain to occur as the court noted in its previous orders,” Hovland wrote in his ruling, but his denial of the request was due to the need to avoid “further confusion and chaos on the eve of an election.”
Hovland acknowledged that the problems of disenfranchisement cited in the emergency request “were clearly predictable and certain to occur,” but added that he was worried that an approval of the request would “create as much confusion as it will alleviate.”
Some aren’t buying that explanation. From Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern:
This assertion is difficult to believe. In his earlier ruling, Hovland found that the new law would prevent about 5,000 Native American voters from casting a ballot. Although tribal governments have scrambled to hand out new IDs for free, voters like Terry Yellow Fat have no recourse. The state wrongly insists that Yellow Fat lives in a liquor store, and must use the store’s address to vote—but if he does so, he will break the law, because it is not actually his “fixed permanent dwelling.” It’s hard to see how a narrow order protecting people like Yellow Fat would’ve created any confusion.
Either way, Hovland’s decision is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for disenfranchised folks hoping to vote in the November midterms.
“That’s terrible news for [ND Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp],” Stern writes. “This measure was designed to deny her a second term in the Senate by suppressing the votes of tribal voters, who tend to lean Democratic. It now appears that the law will work as intended.”
Featured image via Flickr