When North Dakota, in 2012, elected Democrat Heidi Heitman to the Senate by some 3,000 votes, Republicans, who run the state, went scrambling for solutions. They found one which eliminates 75,000 potential Democratic voters from casting a ballot, including the quasi totality of the state’s Indians, roughly five-and-a-half percent of the population.
The solution Republicans found came in the form of a change in identification presented at polling stations. In 2018, a voter must present an ID which has name, date of birth and a provable address with street and house number. Fair enough you may say except in rural North Dakota people live in sparsely populated areas where dirt roads often have no names and houses rarely have a number. In all nearly ten percent of the Flickertail State could be denied their right to vote.
Many people, including most Indians, don’t have street addresses. They have Post Office Boxes. Voters in North Dakota never needed a street address.
Although a lower Federal Court overturned the law saying P.O. Boxes were fine addresses, the new rule was upheld by a Federal Appeals Court and, this month, by the US Supreme Court. This gave Democrats and Tribal leaders three weeks to get on their horses or in their pick-ups and get papers to people which will be accepted at the polling stations — an almost impossible task.
North Dakota is the only state with no voter registration. Until the law change, it was enough to show up at a poling station, show an ID with your name on it and vote. Only cities like Bismarck and Fargo can do voter registration if they feel the need.
You would be on the voting list if you voted in a previous election. If you had no ID, it just took somebody to recognize you to be able to vote. If you were not on the list or it was the first time you voted, you signed a affidavit saying you are you and voted. Believe it or not, there has never been voter fraud, even though that is the pretext Republicans used to change the law.
Republicans said they could not verify 3,600 affidavits after the 2016 elections. That does not mean there was voter fraud, nor has anybody claimed there was voter fraud. Everybody in North Dakota knows everybody else for dozens of miles around. It was the Voting Rights Act a Republican Congress passed in 2013 that gives states much more power in policing polling stations so you can bet your wooden-nickels they will enforce the new law on Tuesday.
The Republicans claim people can all get a 911 address and then obtain the proper papers with a “911 street address” on it. The emergency response has designated addresses for people in the state’s 53 counties.
Many Indians don’t have the means to travel to, nor the money to buy the new ID once they get to an administrative center with their 911 address. There is also a high level of homelessness among them, not to mention many Indians don’t have birth certificates. Tribes are trying to get free ID to voters in time for election day and reach out to those spread around in the prairies and hills.
Why is this election important? Without the Indian vote, it will be hard for Heidi Heitman to win the election and if she loses, the Democrats have no hope of taking back the Senate.