North Dakota Native Americans Scramble For Voting IDs After Requirement Change
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In North Dakota, activists are scrambling to make sure Native Americans can vote next week. They are a key bloc for Democrats. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld the Republican legislature's changes to voter ID requirements. North Dakota voters now need street addresses, and many Native Americans don't have them. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: On the northern edge of the Standing Rock Reservation, the tan prairie stretches for miles. And it's so remote you have to go to the nearest hill to get a cellphone signal. In the small community of Porcupine, Nicole Donaghy walks from one modest wood house to the next, talking to as many of the 150 residents as she can.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
BRADY: Donaghy grew up on the reservation and now works for groups that encourage Native Americans to vote. Armed with a clipboard, bright pink information sheets and buttons that read, I'm indigenous and I vote, she starts each conversation this way.
NICOLE DONAGHY: And we are going door to door in Porcupine tonight to make sure that everybody knows about the new voting requirements.
PHILOMENE CALLOUSLEG: Oh, OK. Yeah, I heard about that on the radio.
BRADY: Philomene Callousleg worries new identification requirements will keep Native Americans from voting.
CALLOUSLEG: Especially for the homeless people. Just because they don't have a home - you know, they're out on the streets - that doesn't mean that they don't have the right to vote.
BRADY: Callousleg confirms her ID has a street address on it. That's important because in one previous election, North Dakota residents were allowed to vote using just a P.O. Box. A federal appeals court overturned that, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently let that decision stand. But requiring a street address is a problem for some Native Americans, says Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
MIKE FAITH: Some of them don't even know their real addresses, or they may have a post office box in Fort Yates or Cannon Ball and go to that area.
BRADY: In the past, it was easier to get around the home address requirement. A poll worker could vouch for a voter, or someone with no ID could sign an affidavit that they were eligible to cast a ballot. But Republicans, who control the state government, eliminated those provisions in recent years, arguing they undermined the integrity of elections. North Dakota's Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger says the affidavits became a problem when officials tried to verify them after the 2016 election.
AL JAEGER: Over 3,600 voters, we couldn't match those affidavits with the name on the affidavit and an address.
BRADY: Jaeger says he can't say for sure this was voter fraud. But he says it raises questions, especially in a state with close races. Back in 2012, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp won by fewer than 3,000 votes, and she faces a tough re-election this year. Jaeger says allegations that Republicans changed ID requirements to suppress Democratic votes are false.
JAEGER: What has been done is that the voters that come to the polls have assurances that the other people are legitimate voters.
BRADY: Standing Rock chairman Mike Faith doesn't buy that argument. But he says even if discouraging Native American voters was the goal, it won't work.
FAITH: Instead of keeping people away from the polls, I think what they did is they encouraged us to get to the polls.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hi. Somebody already stopped here.
BRADY: Organizers say they'll continue to knock on doors here at Standing Rock and at other reservations around the state, hoping that by Election Day, everyone will know that to vote, they'll need ID with their street address on it. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Porcupine, N.D.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.