BELCOURT, N.D. (CIRCA) - At any one of North Dakota’s five reservations, most of the houses are unnumbered and many of the streets are unnamed.
That poses a problem for many of the state’s 30,000 Native Americans this election day.
In October, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision to impose a stricter voter ID law in the state, which requires a residential address on identification presented at the polls.
“The intent, I believe, was to hinder a lot of our potential voters at the state and federal level. The unintentional outcome to that was the unification of our people and the other tribes, working together to rally to vote.”
Many Native Americans use post office boxes instead of a physical address. Tribal identification, which was valid in the primaries, will no longer be accepted.
The rule is likely to hurt incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in her re-election bid against Republican Kevin Cramer, a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Native Americans tend to vote Democratic.
In a statement to Circa, North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger said the state “has always required a residential address and birthdate and has never accepted P.O. Boxes for voting purposes.”
But it wasn’t until Heitkamp narrowly won her Senate seat in 2012 — with overwhelming support form indigenous voters — that the Republican-controlled state legislature began to push for more stringent voter ID regulations.
Further back, before a 2003 law imposed a non-photo ID requirement, voters simply had to provide a signature confirming they were eligible to vote.
The new hurdle for voters sparked a lawsuit just days before the midterms. The Spirit Lake Tribe filed a complaint Nov. 1 against Jaeger, which reads: “Jaeger’s implementation of the residential address requirement has imposed severe — sometimes insurmountable — burdens on the right to vote for many voters on reservations.”
"(North Dakota) has always required a residential address and birthdate and has never accepted P.O. Boxes for voting purposes.”
The state claims the rule is intended to combat voter fraud, despite evidence showing that voter fraud is not an issue in North Dakota or elsewhere in the country.
But there are still ways for those without a residential address to ensure they aren’t turned away at the polls on Nov. 6. Those who don’t currently have an address can have one assigned by a local 911 coordinator. Supplemental documents showing the assigned address can be presented along with IDs that provide only a P.O. box.
“That is one of the biggest hurdles, to get a physical address,” said Wes Davis, a reservation resident in North Dakota.
Tribal leaders and indigenous rights advocates have been scrambling to fulfill these requirements, and make sure everyone has the proper ID before election day.
The Stand-N-Vote campaign even held a concert at the Standing Rock reservation, promoted by actor Mark Ruffalo and featuring musician Dave Matthews. The celebrities and activists used the event to help distribute proper identification for reservation residents.
Tribal leaders say they will not be dissuaded from exercising their right to vote.
“The intent, I believe, was to hinder a lot of our potential voters at the state and federal level,” said Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa tribal chairman Jamie Azure. “The unintentional outcome to that was the unification of our people and the other tribes, working together to rally to vote.”