Some Native Americans have faced significant obstacles to voting – and a U.S. House subcommittee will today conduct a field hearing on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to hear testimony about it.
Barriers to the ballot box for Native American voters in North Dakota was the subject of an investigation published in October as part of the Center for Public Integrity’s “Abandoned in America” series.
The hearing on Standing Rock is one of a series of field hearings the
elections subcommittee of the House Administration Committee is
conducting across the country.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said it is
“gathering contemporaneous evidence of voter suppression efforts across
the country. As demonstrated by the many issues which arose during past
election cycles, Native Americans face numerous obstacles exercising
their right to vote.”
Fudge and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the ranking member of the
committee, are expected to attend. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., are also scheduled to participate,
according to a subcommittee advisory.
The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. in Fort Yates, North Dakota, and
is open to the public. It will also be livestreamed on the committee’s website.
The congressional representatives are expected to hear from
a panel of witnesses that includes OJ Semans, co-executive director of
Four Directions, a South Dakota-based nonprofit that advocates for
voting rights, Jacqueline De Leon, a staff attorney at the Native
American Rights Fund. Tribal representatives and others who work on
Native American voter turnout issues in the Dakotas are also expected to
The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation
in October found that between 2008 and 2016, Sioux County, which makes
up the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock reservation, averaged the
lowest voter turnout rate of any county in the state. Two other counties
whose populations are majority Native American had the second- and
third-lowest turnout in the state over the same period.
The investigation found several reasons for the low voter turnout. The 2018 election brought a new complication:
In an October ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed state voter
identification requirements to go into force for the November 2018
A lower court judge had previously found the law’s requirements would disproportionately burden Native American voters, but the state appealed and his ruling was overturned.
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, a Republican, has
repeatedly said the voter identification requirements aren’t meant to
disenfranchise anyone, only to ensure the integrity of elections.
Voting advocates feared the ruling would depress Native American voting turnout, and tribes scrambled to provide identification to members that complied with the requirements. But attention to the situation – in part generated by a roster of celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo and the Dave Matthews Band – propelled a surge of Native American voters to the polls.
The Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, together with a
series of individual plaintiffs, have filed a new lawsuit in federal
court over the voter identification requirements.
The lawsuit is still pending.