Native American Rights Fund on YouTube: Protecting Native American Voting Rights

Native vote at issue as North Dakota faulted for 'discriminatory' law



Native voters in North Dakota continue to fight for their rights amid repeated attempts to limit their participation.

A federal judge has twice ruled that the state's voter identification laws have a "discriminatory and burdensome" impact on tribal citizens. But efforts to reach a settlement have failed ahead of a big election this year, The Associated Press reports.

"They want to limit the right of people to vote," attorney Tom Dickson, who is part of the legal team in Brakebill v. Jaeger, told The Associated Press. "This isn't a law with unintended consequences, it's a law with intended consequences."

The plaintiffs in the case are Richard Brakebill, Deloris Baker, Dorothy Herman, Della Merrick, Elvis Norquay, Ray Norquay and Lucille Vivier. Despite being able to vote in the past, they were either recently barred from casting ballots 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.

“They take advantage of the lower class, like our votes don’t count or something like that,” Elvis Norquay, who is a veteran and a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, told The Atlantic. “I learned that they do. I know they do.”

The ballot this November includes a high-stakes U.S. Senate race between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the incumbent, and Kevin Cramer, the Republican challenger and a current member of the U.S. House. The Native vote could prove crucial as it did when Heitkamp first won election in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes

Following Heitkamp's victory, Republican lawmakers began enacting more strict voter identification laws. In an August 2016 ruling, Judge Daniel Hovland said the state could not enforce them because they impose "disproportionate burdens" on Native Americans.

Despite that ruling, Republicans passed yet another law that Hovland said intentionally targeted Native voters. That law was the subject of the most recent April 3 victory for the plaintiffs.

“Judge Hovland got it. He detailed the unfair nature of the state’s law and again recognized that the law created significant and unnecessary voting obstacles for Native voters in North Dakota," Native American Rights Fund attorney Jacqueline De León said. "Laws such as these are a direct threat to the functioning of our democracy.”


As an active member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Heitkamp has focused on Native youth, Native women and tribal law enforcement. She has introduced and co-sponsored a slew of Indian Country legislation and a number of them, especially those with Republican support, have become law.

Cramer won his first election in 2012 as well but has less of a favorable record on Indian issues. He has been a prominent defender of the Dakota Access Pipeline, though Heitkamp has been faulted by Native voters for failing to join the #NoDAPL movement.

Complicating matters, President Donald Trump openly praised Heitkamp, calling her a "good woman" at an event in North Dakota last September during which she was the only Democrat invited onstage. Cramer was there too and his campaign hasn't been happy about the attention being paid to his rival, POLITICO reported.

And just last week, Heitkamp was again at the president's side. The White House invited her to a signing ceremony for another bipartisan bill which she co-sponsored -- Cramer's team tried to block her participation, POLITICO reported.

“We will see footage of this on every platform,” a top Republican told POLITICO. “It’s a huge gift for her campaign.”

Read More on the Story:
North Dakota, tribes fail to reach settlement over voter ID (The Associated Press May 30, 2018)
GOP sweats Trump’s Heitkamp flirtation (POLITICO May 30, 2018)
GOP Senate candidate lashes out at Trump’s legislative director (POLITICO May 30, 2018)
As settlement talks near, Heitkamp says voter ID laws 'clearly target' Native Americans, college students (The Fargo Forum May 11, 2018)
North Dakota agrees to settlement talks over voter ID laws (The Associated Press May 8, 2018)
Federal judge won't delay North Dakota voter ID ruling (The Associated Press May 4, 2018)
After Stunning Democratic Win, North Dakota Republicans Suppressed the Native American Vote (The Atlantic May 2, 2018)
Republican attempt to suppress Native votes fails (High Plains Reader May 2, 2018)
Settlement talks scheduled in ND voter ID case (The West Fargo Pioneer May 8, 2018)

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'She chose oil over Indians': Native voters upset with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (May 29, 2018)