In a news conference on Thursday, July 10, North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger defended his strict reading of North Dakota voting law. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom Resource Center, representing those with disabilities, had called on Jaeger to rethink his interpretation, which allows voters to use a small number of forms of identification. The rights groups say this has unfairly burdened tribal and disabled voters.
Heather Smith, the ACLU’s North and South Dakota director, said Jaeger’s interpretation had created the “strictest voter ID law in the nation.” She claimed it violates the Voting Rights Act and flies in the face of federal-court decisions striking down such laws.
Tribal ID is on the list of acceptable credentials. But there’s a catch: It must display the voter’s home address. The Spirit Lake Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa—making up nearly one-third of North Dakota’s Native population of about 36,500—do not include this information on their IDs.
Said Smith, “there is ample concern that members of these communities may also lack other permissible forms of ID,” including driver’s licenses. Nor do they have ready access to the vehicles and gas money necessary to get to the distant offices where they can obtain alternative ID, said South Dakota ACLU’s policy director, Libby Skarin.
In an interview with ICTMN, Jaeger said the Turtle Mountain council has resolved to re-credential their population with ID that includes a home address. Jaeger said he would reach out to Spirit Lake to do the same. Skarin objected, saying it’s not clear that the tribes have the money or infrastructure to make these changes. Jaeger confirmed that no funding is available from the state for new tribal IDs.
The state’s disabled voters also face barriers. They are typically poorer than other Americans and unable to afford new documentation, according to Nate Aalgaard, director of the Freedom Resource Center for Independent Living, in Fargo. They also generally lack driver’s licenses and therefore a way to obtain so-called “non-driver’s licenses.”
Where the disabled are concerned, Jaeger said advocates have to be “part of the solution” and offer those who can’t drive a ride to the offices where they may apply for acceptable alternate ID. This can’t be just the government’s job, Jaeger said.
“Protecting the right to vote is Secretary Jaeger’s job,” countered Smith.
The ACLU has suggested numerous optional forms of ID, which could be used in combination with, for example, a tribal ID. These include a hunting license to show the voter’s address and date of birth or a lease to show a home address. Jaeger dismissed these, saying you need a driver’s license to get the former and that the latter may be issued to several people. Using a U.S. passport is also not acceptable.
What’s next? Said ACLU staff attorney Sean Young, “The best outcome is if the secretary of state simply rescinds this latest implementation and ensures that all eligible voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
And if he won’t? Might the ACLU file a lawsuit? The organization is “exploring all options,” according to Young.