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Voter Suppression: Native American Version


One of my hobbyhorses is that the way we talk about race and racial in this problems actually erases the struggles of Native, Asian, and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Latino people because the dialogue is so terms of black-white relations. This erasure very much includes how it talked about on the left. When a Native issue comes up, yes, it will get attention, but race still ultimately means primarily African-Americans. That’s understandable to no small extent, both historically and in terms of contemporary population figures, although there are more Latinos today. But nonetheless, everything that is happening to African-Americans is also happening to other people of color. That very much includes voter suppression. People are paying attention to the voter suppression of Native voters in North Dakota, but perhaps less known is why this is such an issue. What are the issues particular to North Dakota?

North Dakota has long been an easy state in which to vote, and it is the only state that does not require voter registration.

Until the state Legislature passed a new voter identification law in 2013, shortly after Heitkamp’s narrow victory, the law offered so-called failsafes for voters who didn’t have necessary identification showing a residential street address: A poll worker who knew the voter could vouch for them, or the voter could sign an affidavit attesting to their right to vote in the precinct.

Among other changes, the new law, which lawmakers said was needed to combat voter fraud, more strictly limited the acceptable forms of identification people could use to vote and eliminated the failsafes. It required voters to have identification that included a residential street address.

Phyllis Young, 70, a Standing Rock elder and longtime activist who said she always votes, recounted in an interview how in 2014, toward the end of the day, she went to the courthouse in Fort Yates to vote.

She showed poll workers officials her U.S. passport, which she said she had used in the past.

They showed her a document that stated passports weren’t on the list of acceptable voter identification — and they turned her away.

“I was just angry that I didn’t get to vote,” Young said.

The lady in front of her in line also lacked identification and was turned away, said Young, currently the recipient of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology fellowship for a project to improve energy efficiency on the reservation.

In January 2016, a group of Native American plaintiffs, members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, represented by the Native American Rights Fund, sued the state over the law. They challenged the need for identification carrying a residential street address — reservation addresses are often post office boxes. North Dakota has five federally recognized tribes. They also argued that the law’s requirements would disproportionately affect Native American voters who are less likely to possess, or be able to easily obtain, such IDs.

For example, the complaint noted, the mean travel distance for voting age Native Americans living on Standing Rock to a site where they could obtain a North Dakota driver’s license or non-driver state identification was 61 miles.

Lawyers representing North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office have said the state is not trying to keep Native Americans from voting and the purpose of the law is to make sure legitimate votes aren’t diluted by ineligible voters.

Faith has a driver’s license with a street address on it, but he says many people don’t. He somewhat sheepishly acknowledged that somehow, he got bogged down and failed to vote in the June primary — but he heard of others getting turned away.

When that happens, he said, “They walk off and you’ll probably never get that person to the polls again.”

And let’s be clear as to why this is happening:

Like many, Faith said he believes the state Legislature passed the voter identification law because Native American voters boosted Heitkamp over her Republican opponent. “My honest opinion — I really strongly feel that way,” he said.

This. Republicans around the nation are rejecting democracy because they can’t win in the marketplace of ideas. Instead, they are just going to embrace fascism, as we have already seen at the national level and in states such as North Carolina. The Georgia and Florida gubernatorial elections are basically choices between fascism and democracy. As for North Dakota, the fact that Kevin Cramer is this year’s Todd Akin and has surged in the polls since saying incredibly sexist things just shows how out of control Republican voters have become.

The whole article is really good because it also gets into the mixed legacy of the Standing Rock protests, why Natives don’t vote in high numbers under any circumstances, and other core issues that should vastly increase our understanding of American racism as a whole.

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