No one deserves the right to vote in the elections that will determine the future direction of this country more than the original inhabitants of this land, the Native Americans who were driven from their land and forced to live on limited reservations. A Supreme Court decision announced today, however, may disproportionately disenfranchise Native Americans in North Dakota in the midst of a tight Senatorial race in the state between Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and her Republican challenger.
The ruling by the court, which did not include any input from the newly installed justice Brett Kavanaugh, upheld a lower court decision to require voters in North Dakota to “present certain forms of identification and proof of their residential address in order to cast a ballot in next month’s elections,” according to a report in Mother Jones.
The requirement was fought by lawyers representing North Dakota’s large Native American population, many of whom live in rural areas without typical residential street addresses and don’t have the proper identification. It goes without saying that the requirement was put in place by North Dakota Republicans with the aim of making it more difficult to vote as they do in every state where they control the local governments since they seem to only be able to win elections by cheating and preventing legitimate voters from casting their ballots.
The Republicans began their voter suppression strategy immediately after the last Senatorial election six years ago, when Senator Heitkamp won another tight election by only 3,000 votes with significant backing from the Native American community.
Lower courts ruled that the new regulations were discriminatory against the Native Americans because the state was aware that many rural residents wouldn’t be able to obtain the required ID.
“’The State has acknowledged that Native American communities often lack residential street addresses,’Judge Daniel Hovland wrote. ‘Nevertheless, under current State law an individual who does not have a “current residential street address” will never be qualified to vote.'”
“According to the website of the Native American Rights Fund, which represents the plaintiffs, many native residents lack residential street addresses because ‘the U.S. postal service does not provide residential delivery in these rural Indian communities.’ As a result, tribal IDs use P.O. boxes, which are not sufficient under North Dakota’s new law—a specification that seems designed to disenfranchise native voters,” according to Mother Jones.
As a result of this initial ruling, the law was not allowed to take effect during the primaries earlier this year, but in September the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court ruling and implemented the new regulations, effectively making Senator Heitkamp’s reelection campaign that much more challenging.
Today’s Supreme Court ruling upheld the 8th Circuit Court’s opinion but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg issued a fiery dissent condemning the decision.
“In her dissent, Ginsburg argued that the Supreme Court’s order was at odds with one of the top court’s most frequently invoked doctrines on election law: not to change the rules right before an election. By allowing a different set of ID rules in the general election from in the primary, Ginsburg warned, the court was risking widespread confusion and disenfranchisement.” Mother Jones writes.
“The risk of voter confusion appears severe here 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,” Ginsburg wrote. “Reasonable voters may well assume that the IDs allowing them to vote in the primary election would remain valid in the general election. If the Eighth Circuit’s stay is not vacated, the risk of disfranchisement is large.”
It is now estimated that up to 20% of the North Dakota electorate will be unable to cast ballots in the midterms next month due to the new rules, and that’s exactly how the Republicans want it. Treating voting as a privilege, not a right is part of their everyday strategy to retain power. If the Democrats wind up losing a seat in North Dakota due to this cynical manipulation of the voter rolls, expect Republicans to continue to try to pass ever more restrictive regulations, knowing that a pliant Supreme Court has their back.
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