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Federal judge expands tribal ID options for North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge has agreed to expand the proof of identity Native Americans can use for North Dakota elections, a decision reversing his temporary order that allowed voters without a state-approved ID to cast ballots by signing a legal document.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland’s ruling issued Tuesday adds other tribal documents to the state’s list of valid forms of ID. It also eliminates a requirement that those documents include residential street addresses, which sometimes aren’t assigned on American Indian reservations.

“No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote,” Hovland wrote in his 17-page ruling.

Several members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota challenged the state’s voter identification laws, saying they were a form of voter suppression.

Tom Dickson, a lawyer for tribal members, called the judge’s ruling a victory. He said it should clear a big hurdle for Native Americans at the polls.

“Our main concern was not accepting any identification from Native Americans, and now that’s gone,” he said.

North Dakota filed a notice Wednesday that it would appeal the judge’s ruling, but the state’s chief election’s officer, Republican Al Jaeger, called the appeal “procedural.”

In a joint statement, Jaeger and Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said they were “pleased” Hovland removed the affidavit requirement that the state argued in court documents could lead to “thousands of unverifiable votes.”

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum last year signed legislation that reworked the ID laws after tribal members sued the state in 2016. The lawsuit alleged the ID requirements violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act and discriminated against Native Americans.

Hovland issued an order in 2016 and blocked the state’s voter identification law after it was challenged. Before 2013, a voter could sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility to vote, but the GOP-controlled Legislature removed that provision. Hovland had reinstated that provision prior to the general election last year but has now removed it.

North Dakota doesn’t have voter registration, but the state has required voters to provide ID since 2004. The state accepts a driver’s license as identification or ID cards issued by the state, long-term care facilities or North Dakota’s American Indian tribes. The law required that all must have a valid address, and that those who didn’t have proper ID to cast a ballot had to be set aside until the voter’s eligibility is confirmed.

Hovland struck that part of the law.

“… protecting the most cherished right to vote for thousands of Native Americans who currently lack a qualifying ID and cannot obtain one, outweighs the purported interest and arguments of the state,” he wrote.

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