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Some Native Americans have issues voting in North Dakota

November 6, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Some Native Americans in North Dakota had issues Tuesday complying with the state’s voter identification requirements, but advocacy groups and state officials said they weren’t immediately aware of any widespread problems.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month allowed the state to continue requiring street addresses on voter IDs, as opposed to addresses such as post office boxes that many Native Americans have long relied on.

Tribes hurried to issue thousands of free IDs with street addresses after the Supreme Court decision, but problems still surfaced on Tuesday, said Carla Fredericks, a professor with the University of Colorado’s American Indian Law Clinic.

About 20 students from the university’s law school went to North Dakota to help Native Americans cast ballots and resolve any issues, and Fredericks went to a polling site in New Town on the reservation of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, of which she is a member.

Fredericks estimated that of the 500 people who had come to the site by midafternoon, about 15 had been turned away and told to return with supplemental documents. It was not immediately clear how many did so.

“The weather is really bad here,” Fredericks said, referring to snow, strong winds and cold temperatures. “Asking them to come back with additional documents is basically turning them away.”

Another 10 to 15 voters cast “set-aside” ballots, which are not counted until the voter proves his or her eligibility. The voter has up to six days.

“If they don’t come back, then they’re effectively turned away,” Fredericks said, adding that “we have 50 reservation polling locations roughly (in North Dakota), and I’m only at one.”

Bret Healy, a consultant for Four Directions, a group that advocates for Native American voting rights, said he was not immediately aware of any widespread voting problems in Indian Country.

John Arnold, elections director in the secretary of state’s office, said the same, as did American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Andrew Malone, though he added that the group was largely leaving the matter to the Native American Rights Fund. That group, which has been involved in two lawsuits against the state over the voter ID requirements, said it had no immediate information on the status of reservation voting.

The voter ID issue was heightened because of a pivotal U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer.

North Dakota’s law was changed just months after Heitkamp’s 2012 win by fewer than 3,000 votes. It came with the help of Native Americans, who tend to vote Democrat, though the Republican-controlled Legislature said that had nothing to do with updates aimed at guarding against voter fraud.

After the unsuccessful court attempt to ease the street address requirement, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Standing Rock Sioux, Spirit Lake Sioux and Three Affiliated Tribes with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations provided more than 2,000 tribal members with proper IDs.

The Lakota People’s Law Project mounted a ground campaign to educate tribal voters on the ID requirements, and Four Directions came up with an alternative street address mapping system for the Standing Rock Reservation.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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