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Advocacy group wants North Dakota to allow simpler IDs for Native Americans at polls

It points to precedent: Officials recently allowed three voters to use forms with tribal masthead and basic info as ID before casting their ballots, the group says

SANTA FE, NM - NOVEMBER 12, 2017:  A coat made from an antique blanket for sale in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, art gallery is embellished with cutout letters spelling 'Standing Rock', referring to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
SANTA FE, NM - NOVEMBER 12, 2017: A coat made from an antique blanket for sale in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, art gallery is embellished with cutout letters spelling 'Standing Rock', referring to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

TURTLE MOUNTAIN INDIAN RESERVATION, NORTH DAKOTA — A voting rights group in North Dakota is asking state officials to let Native Americans use a form printed with tribal letterhead and a standard piece of ID to cast ballots in the state.

The request, if granted, would ensure that thousands of people who could be prevented from casting ballots in Tuesday’s election as a result of recently tightened restrictions that disproportionately impact tribal people, will be able to vote.

In its letter to North Dakota’s secretary of state, the voting rights group Four Directions also asked that the government provide training to county auditors overseeing Indian reservations, so that they can recognize authorized, tribal-issued forms.

The forms include the tribal masthead, the voter’s name, date of birth, and address.

The letter claimed the secretary of state’s office allowed three female Standing Rock Tribal members to cast a vote on Friday using just such a tribal-issued form that contained the tribe’s voting address. The secretary of state and the Sioux County Auditor’s office did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment on Saturday evening.

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OJ Semans, Four Direction’s co-executive director, said North Dakota’s voter ID law allows the use of such forms and that his organization has been asking the state to allow it since last month on Indigenous People’s Day on October 8.

“Had the secretary of state agreed with our proposal on Indigenous People’s Day, the voter suppression would not have been an issue because we proposed this back then,” Semans told ThinkProgress.

“Unbeknownst to North Dakota, they made it easier to vote,” Semans added. “This is probably one of the biggest wins that we’ve had in our fight for equality in Indian country.”

The North Dakota Republican legislature passed a law after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) narrow election upset in 2012 requiring voters to present IDs with a residential mailing address when voting. Because many tribal members do not have a formal mailing addresses on reservations and instead rely on PO boxes, the law effectively stripped many Native Americans of their voting rights.

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After the Supreme Court allowed the law to remain in effect last month, tribes have been scrambling to print out new IDs with mailing addresses.

Nevertheless, as ThinkProgress reported on Friday, county officials in some cases are not accepting tribal IDs when the addresses on those IDs do not match the addresses in a state election database.

According to the Four Directions letter, the three women members of the Standing Rock Nation tribe who attempted to cast an absentee ballot vote at the Sioux County courthouse Saturday afternoon initially were refused.

They were using a letter from their tribe that included the voter’s name, date of birth, and address, the items that the state’s voter ID law requires.

The county auditor and later the state attorney both initially told the three women that they needed a photo ID to vote. After representatives from Four Directions contacted the secretary of state and determined the tribal-issued letters worked as a form of ID, according to the letter, they ultimately were able to cast their ballots, the letter said.

“We request you contact county Auditors and other election officials that you consider necessary to ensure a smooth and efficient voter experience, be fully informed that Tribal Voting Letters are a valid and complete method of voter identification without need of any other documents, if you have not already done so in response to the conflict in Sioux County yesterday,” the letter stated.