Ahead of Election, Native Americans Rise Up Against Repressive Voting Laws

October 5, 2020 0 By PENTICTONLAWYERS

Refusing to be silenced by restrictive new voting laws, Native Americans across the western U.S. are taking their fight to the courts, arguing that tribal communities have become even further disenfranchised by rules passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark voting rights ruling.

An in-depth report published by Reuters on Tuesday highlights revisions to a North Dakota law that “eliminated a provision that had allowed people without proper identification…to vote if they were recognized by a poll worker or if they signed an affidavit swearing to their identity.” 

In that state, which holds its Democratic primary on June 7, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples comprise the largest minority—just over five percent compared to less than one percent of the national household population, according to the state census (pdf). 

As many tribal IDs don’t include addresses, nor can those living on impoverished reservations afford to pay for updated identification, these restrictions “disproportionately burden Native American voters in North Dakota,” argues a lawsuit (pdf) filed in January by the nonprofit Native American Rights Fund (NARF).

“Maybe it’s no big deal if you work, but it’s a big deal to people that don’t have access to $10,” said Richard McCloud, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, which has a reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota.

NARF is expected to file a motion by June 30 requesting that the court invalidate the changes to the ID law ahead of November’s election, Reuters reports, as the state’s growing Native American population may have the ability to “tip the balance” in key races.

“The Native American vote is not big enough to flip a safe Republican state such as North Dakota into the Democrat column in this year’s presidential election,” notes Reuters, “but Native Americans are a growing proportion of the population and a majority in some counties where increased voter turnout in recent years has tipped the balance in some congressional races.”

Indeed, since the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, native groups have flagged voting-related problems in 17 states via litigation or tribal diplomacy with local officials, according to a recent survey by Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN).