BISMARCK - The Spirit Lake Tribe and voters who are challenging North Dakota’s voter identification law filed an emergency motion Wednesday, Oct. 31, seeking relief from the requirements for Native American voters living on or near reservations.
The court filing is part of a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court by the Spirit Lake Tribe and six individuals against Secretary of State Al Jaeger.
The complaint alleges that eligible voters have been and will continue to be denied the right to vote unless a federal judge takes action before Election Day.
The North Dakota law requires voters to present identification with a street address, but many addresses on reservations are post office boxes and street addresses aren’t assigned. The law is being enforced for the first time this election after an Oct. 9 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed the requirements to take effect.
The Secretary of State’s office has provided information to tribes about complying with the law, including directing voters to obtain a residential street address by notifying 911 coordinators in North Dakota counties.
But the court complaint calls the process of assigning and verifying voters’ addresses “deeply flawed” and alleges the law is unconstitutional as applied to Native Americans on reservations. The lawsuit raises examples of voters who are struggling to comply with the state’s stricter voter ID law, including tribal members who have been denied absentee ballots.
The emergency motion for a temporary restraining order seeks to prevent the law from being enforced for voters in North Dakota counties that include an Indian reservation who fall into these categories:
- Voters with residential addresses the state considers invalid.
- Voters with no access to an accurate residential address.
- Voters with no access to documentation of their residential address.
- Voters whose addresses are unassigned.
- Voters unable to determine their address and get an ID before the election.
Jaeger said late Tuesday he had received the complaint but could not comment on pending litigation.
Supporters of the law say it aims to preserve the integrity of elections in North Dakota, which does not have voter registration.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Tim Purdon, former U.S. attorney for the District of North Dakota, attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund, the Campaign Legal Center and others.
The complaint cites examples of eligible voters who face an “imminent threat” of being denied the right to vote, including:
- Dion Jackson, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe, was denied an absentee ballot because the county auditor said his residential address does not match the one in the North Dakota Department of Transportation database. However, Jackson has that address on a state-issued ID and receives packages from the UPS and FedEX at that address.
- Douglas Yankton, vice chairman of the Spirit Lake Tribe, was issued a state ID with an address in Oberon and has used that address for 18 years. When his girlfriend, Sara Hesse, called the 911 coordinator to obtain her address at the same home in 2015, she was provided with a Fort Totten address. The Secretary of State’s online search tool for identifying the correct polling place recognizes neither address.
- Terry Yellow Fat, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, obtained a street address from the 911 coordinator. But he was told by a UPS driver that the address belongs to a liquor store down the street. He wishes to vote but he can’t meet the requirement because the 911 coordinator has not issued him an accurate address.
Tribes have been working to help tribal members get the proper ID ahead of the election, including the Spirit Lake Tribe, which has waived the $11 charge for a tribal ID and extended office hours, the complaint says.
The tribe issued 328 new IDs between Oct. 22 and Oct. 29. The tribe has identified more than 100 members who have not yet received an updated ID. The complaint says the state has not provided the tribe with resources to help members obtain IDs that the state is requiring to vote.
The complaint also says the voter identification requirement imposes a uniquely severe burden for Native Americans in North Dakota.
For example, in Rolette County, home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the Department of Motor Vehicles is open one day a month for three hours. It was last available at the county seat of Rolla on Oct. 3 — six days before the Supreme Court’s decision. The next time it will be available is Nov. 7, or one day after the election.
Many in Indian Country also lack the supplemental documents that would be accepted under the law because bank statements or utility statements often list post office boxes due to lack of residential mail delivery.