Democrats Are Getting Very Serious About the Native American Vote

From today’s New York Times:

What do the 573 federally recognized nations of American Indians and Alaska Natives all have in common? A never-ending need for lawyers. The Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forumheld this week in Sioux City, Iowa, at which 11 presidential candidates fielded questions from indigenous elected officials and activists, was a rousing two-day argument for an informed, experienced, compassionate and rational president. Sponsored by Four Directions, the South Dakota-based advocates for native voting rights, it was also a sobering reminder that the road to equality in the United States is paved with outrage, elbow grease and paperwork.

No American citizen should have to drive 100 miles to vote, especially if the roads to a far-flung polling place are maintained by the chronically underfunded Bureau of Indian Affairs. (On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, two people died in July because of a washed-out section of highway on BIA Road 3.) Janet Davis, of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Council, quizzed Marianne Williamson and Bernie Sanders about voting access. She explained that in 2016, her tribe and the Walker River Paiutes won a lawsuit to establish satellite polling places on their reservations. (From Pyramid Lake, the county’s nearest voting site had been a 96-mile round trip.)

Ms. Davis happened to be seated on the stage next to Senator Sanders. She told him, “The county told us it was too late to recruit and train poll workers and we told them we could and we did.” Senator Sanders patted her arm and smiled, revealing an uncharacteristic split second of what appeared to be actual joy.

Ms. Davis asked him, “How will you ensure that all Native Americans on reservations have the same access without having to litigate as we did?” His answer echoed Ms. Williamson’s suggestion earlier that morning, that a president who cares will appoint an effective attorney general. (Which is true in that an attorney general can prosecute violations of election law, though states and counties generally control polling locations.) But the real answer, to paraphrase the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” is that obtaining freedoms is almost always a hassle. All American Indians received full citizenship in 1924, and yet the indigenous people of New Mexico were still suing for suffrage in 1962.

In Minnesota, Four Directions and its native partners were able to negotiate with the state to open satellite polling places on the Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake Reservations without litigation. (Good old Minnesotans; unlike the rest of us they might actually deserve Amy Klobuchar.) But in South Dakota and here in Montana, successfully opening satellite polling places on reservations required legal action.

Read the complete article here.

Native Americans fighting back against North Dakota voter ID law

From today’s NBC News:

For more than a year, Tiffany Hunts Along has lived in a cherrywood mobile home high on a ridge in western North Dakota, where she knows every jagged hilltop and every flat field. But when asked last week about her street address, she was stumped.

“Hold on,” said Hunts Along, 40, after reaching for her newly issued tribal identification card. “That’s right — I live on Medicine Otter Loop.”

When she, her husband and their young children — Native Americans belonging to the Three Affiliated Tribes, also known as the M.H.A. Nation — moved into the White Oak Park community, there was no street signage and no direct postal service to the home. She fetches the family’s mail from the nearest post office on the other side of town; her old tribal ID had listed her address as a post office box.

She never bothered to learn her street’s name — until now.

Hunts Along plans to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s midterm election, but a change made by North Dakota lawmakers has forced her and an estimated 5,000 tribal citizens who may have IDs with a post office box address to obtain either a new state-issued or tribal identification showing their street address in order to vote. The requirement — meant to prevent voter fraud, state officials say — went into effect in early October.

Nowhere in North Dakota is the registration process more complex — and urgent — than on reservations. Voter rights groups are scrambling to ensure residents understand why they might be turned away at the polls when they present an ID. Absentee ballots must list a home address as well, not a post office box.

The 11th-hour push comes amid a competitive U.S. Senate race in solidly red North Dakota, where the stakes are high: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, won by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012. Native Americans, who largely vote Democratic, helped to tip that race in her favor, and she earned more than 80 percent of the vote in the state’s majority-Native counties. Recent polls, however, have given her GOP challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, a double-digit lead. His victory would boost the Republican Party’s chances of holding on to their slim majority in the Senate.

Read the complete article here.

North Dakota voter ID law upheld by Supreme Court could affect Senate race

From CBS News Online:

The Supreme Court ruled this week to uphold a North Dakota voter identification law which requires that voters present an ID which includes a residential address in order to vote, potentially restricting the rights of Native Americans in the state who do not have residential addresses.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017, had been blocked by a U.S. District Court which found it to be discriminatory towards the state’s Native American population. The Eighth Circuit overturned that ruling, and the Supreme Court upheld the circuit court’s decision, with only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissenting. The two noted in their dissent that this ruling was confusing because voters who used their identification to vote in the primaries could now find that same identification insufficient, because “the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the secretary of state’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction.”

Native Americans living on reservations often do not have residential addresses, but have IDs which feature P.O. boxes. Native Americans are North Dakota’s largest minority population, comprising over 5 percent of the state’s population.

This Supreme Court ruling could significantly affect the re-election chances of Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who is trailing Republican opponent Kevin Cramer in polling. Heitkamp won her seat by just under 3,000 votes in 2012, with the help of Native American voters. If a few thousand Native American voters lack the necessary identification and are unable to vote, that could damage Heitkamp in a close race.

However, it is possible to obtain a residential address before Election Day, according to a Facebook post by the organization Native Vote ND, which encourages voter participation by Native Americans in the state.

Read the complete article here.