Federal judge won’t block voter ID law that strips Native Americans of their voting rights

The decision means that potentially thousands of Native Americans will not be able to vote in the upcoming elections.

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A federal judge in North Dakota has denied an emergency motion that sought to seek relief for Native Americans against a state voter ID law that will make it so that “hundreds, perhaps thousands of Native Americans” will not be able to vote in next week’s elections.

Although U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland expressed that there is a “great cause for concern” in regards to the law, he ruled against the motion because it would cause more confusion and chaos so close to the election.

“The federal courts are unanimous in their judgment that it is highly important to preserve the status quo when elections are fast approaching,” Judge Hovland wrote.

The voter ID law requires voters to present an ID at the polls which lists their residential mailing address. This is a problem for many Native Americans that live on Native reservations at homes without an official street address. This can make it impossible for these individuals to obtain a proper ID to vote.

Earlier this year a federal trial court blocked the law, stating that “at least 4,998 otherwise eligible Native Americans (and 64,618 non-Native voters) currently do not possess a qualifying voter ID under the new law.” But in September a panel of three appellate judges voted to stay the trial court’s decision. Two of the judges, both Republicans, voted to reinstate the law, while one, a Democrat, voted against it.

The Republicans that voted to reinstate the law cited a 2008 Supreme Court decision that sided with an Indiana voter ID law establishing that “a plaintiff seeking relief that would invalidate an election provision in all of its applications bears ‘a heavy burden of persuasion.’” This means that in order to challenge the voter ID law, lawyers need to present specific plaintiffs that are especially affected by it.

Both the Spirit Lake Tribe and individual Native American voters filed the lawsuit this week against North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger over the strict voter ID law. They followed up with a motion asking for an emergency temporary restraining order to prevent the law from taking effect in counties with reservations for Native American voters who fall into certain categories.

“While we are disappointed with the order, Judge Hovland was correct that the evidence indicates that disenfranchisement will be ‘certain,'” Corey Goldstone, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, one of the organizations representing the Spirit Lake Tribe, said. “We are considering our options.”

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