Judge Won't Block Voter ID Law for Native Americans in North Dakota

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 02, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal judge denied a last-minute request by Native Americans to exempt them from a North Dakota law that requires voters to show proof of residence when voting.

It was a tough call for Judge Daniel Hovland, who expressed concern that Native Americans were disenfranchised by the requirement. Voters have to show valid identification with a street address, but reservations don't have standard addresses.

It was too late for the judge, however, to change the status quo in Spirit Lake Tribe v. Jaeger. Not to mention, his hands were tied.

Preserving the Status Quo

Hovland had blocked the ID law in April, but the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the order in September.

Then in October, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs' petition to overrule the Eighth Circuit. Hovland, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for North Dakota, had few options at that point.

"The federal courts are unanimous in their judgment that it is highly important to preserve the status quo when elections are fast approaching," he said.

The Native American Vote

Native American voters really matter in North Dakota, where they are the state's largest minority group. They helped Sen. Heidi Heitkamp win an upset victory in 2012 by fewer than 3,000 votes.

In their lawsuit, the Spirit Lake Tribe and six individual plaintiffs say they are being denied their right to vote because they don't have the required identification.

Before the Eighth Circuit and Supreme Court ruled, Hovland found that the ID law disproportionately burdened Native American voters.

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