Tribal citizens secure injunction against North Dakota voter ID law

Voting in North Dakota is "easy as pie" according to an official state poster but a federal judge found otherwise in a lawsuit filed by members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Image from North Dakota Secretary of State

A federal judge put a halt to a new voter identification law in North Dakota on Monday, citing discriminatory impacts on tribal citizens.

Seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians sued the state for imposing restrictions at the polls. They said the new law posed hardships on Native Americans who are unable to obtain identification cards -- even those offered by their own tribes -- due to cost and other concerns.

Judge Daniel Hovland agreed. He said the state must allow alternate or "fail-safe" methods to ensure that tribal citizens can exercise their constitutional rights.

"It is undisputed that the more severe conditions in which Native Americans live translates to disproportionate burdens when it comes to complying with the new voter ID laws," Hovland wrote in the 29-page decision.

The plaintiffs are Richard Brakebill, Deloris Baker, Dorothy Herman, Della Merrick, Elvis Norquay, Ray Norquay and Lucille Vivier. According to the complaint they filed in January, all have either been denied the right to vote due to lack of acceptable ID, were forced to pay to acquire acceptable ID or are unable to obtain acceptable ID due to cost, transportation and other concerns.

Prior to 2013, these Turtle Mountain citizens and other Native Americans would still have been able to vote if they signed an affidavit attesting to their residency or were vouched by a clerk at the their local polling place. A law passed that year, however, eliminated those "fail-safe" options in an attempt to address fraud.

A second law passed in 2015 create imposed even more requirements, again in the name of addressing fraud. But Judge Hovland said the state never presented evidence of fraud.

"To the contrary, the record before the court reveals that the Secretary of State acknowledged in 2006 that he was unaware of any voter fraud in North Dakota," the decision stated.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the Native American Rights Fund, a non-profit, and two law firms. The injunction issued on Monday ensures they can follow the "fail-safe" methods that were in place prior to 2013.

"What we asked for is that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot – particularly Native Americans," NARF staff attorney Matthew Campbell said in a press release. "This ruling is an incredible victory for North Dakota voters as it will ensure that fail-safe mechanisms will be in place in November to protect them."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Brakebill v. Jaeger.

Get the Story:
Judge blocks North Dakota's voter identification law (The Bismarck Tribune 8/2)
Federal judge blocks N.D. voter ID law, requires state to use 2012 requirements (The Grand Forks Herald 8/2)
Federal Judge Bars North Dakota From Enforcing Restrictive Voter ID Law (The New York Times 8/2)
Judge blocks North Dakota’s voter identification law (AP 8/1)
Federal judge blocks N. Dakota’s voter-ID law, calling it unfair to Native Americans (The Washington Post 8/1)

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