Gill: North Dakota law unconstitutionally, unjustly prevents many Native Americans from voting

Wallace Coffey, Chief of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma (left) and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gregory Pyle (right) stand during a ceremony in which their tribal citizens were honored with an award. North Dakota’s new law will wrongly rob Native Americans of their voting rights (U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp/creative commons).

The United States Supreme Court allowed a lower court decision on Oct. 9 which will require voters in North Dakota to provide identification with residential addresses to stand, according to The Washington Post

This will prevent many Native Americans from voting since they are twice as likely to lack a residential address, as reported by The New York Times. Preventing anyone from voting is unconstitutional, but specifically targeting the rights of Native Americans is severely discriminatory.    

By implementing this law, the government will unjustly bar 70,000 citizens from practicing their constitutional right to vote, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Native Americans tend to live on reservations and therefore lack a residential address, only having P.O. box numbers on their government-issued identifications. Others suffer from poverty and homeless, deeming their voting identification ineligible as well. 

The battle against this law began in 2016 when Native American advocacy groups sued the state of North Dakota for its unconstitutionality. Although it was then viewed as a violation of the Voting Rights Act, this initial violation has since then been appealed in September, according to the ACLU. 

Just three weeks before the midterm elections on November 6th, the timing of this law will indisputably lead to confusion at the poll booths. Native Americans who were recently eligible to vote in the June primaries will likely make the long journey into civilized areas to vote since they may be uninformed about the sudden change in requirements, according to The New York Times.

 Supporters of the law assert that requiring traditional residential addresses will aid in preventing voter fraud. Ashoka Mukpo, a staff writer for ACLU, argues that this is unnecessary since there is “virtually no evidence that such fraud is a problem.” 

The upcoming election concerns one of North Dakota’s senators whose election may decide which party will rule the Senate. Their current senator, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, is struggling in the recent polls and her chance at re-election may count on the support of North Dakota Native Americans. 

By barring 5 percent of North Dakota’s population from voting, the Republican Party is manipulating the voter turnout in their favor, according to The New York Times

Co-executive directors of Native American advocacy organization Four Directions Oliver and Barbara Semans proposed a solution to station officials at every reservation’s voting location in order to effectively issue residential addresses. Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s response to a letter from the group supports this argument.

Yaeger did not endorse this initiative that would ensure Native American participation in the election, indicating where he truly stands. 

“It is a legal question that is beyond the authority of this office as to whether a sovereign tribe has those powers within their jurisdiction,” Jaeger wrote in a dissenting argument, according to The New York Times

A citizen’s right to vote should not depend on where they live in a state. Allowing this law to go into effect will hinder thousands of Native Americans from voting for a representative who will determine the laws that govern their lives. 

The Native American population had been oppressed long before the establishment of our government even though they are the land’s original inhabitants. To remain truly democratic, we must fight against unconstitutional laws like these and protect all peoples.