Supreme Court Tells North Dakota It Can Suppress All The Native Votes It Wants!
With fewer than 30 days to go before the midterm elections, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to put a finger on the scales to suppress Democratic votes in North Dakota, allowing the state's voter ID law to go into effect before next month's election. Never mind that the law had been suspended during the primaries, or that early voting is already underway in the state. Now voters will have to show a government-issued photo ID that shows their residential street address, even though many of the state's Native Americans either don't have street addresses at all, or their existing ID cards don't include the street address. Gotta prevent non-existent voter fraud, after all. Or at least keep Democrat Heidi Heitkamp from keeping her seat in an insanely close US Senate race where a few thousand votes could make all the difference.
The Supremes -- voting without newly installed Brett Kavanaugh -- decided not to hear an appeal of a decision from a lower federal court, upholding that court's finding without the Republican-appointed majority's even having to justify its decision in an opinion. SCOTUSblog's Amy Howe lawsplains the plaintiff's case against the 2017 North Dakota law:
A group of Native American voters in North Dakota have challenged the law, telling the courts that the requirement that voters present identification bearing a street address could pose an obstacle to voting for Native Americans in several ways. Native Americans often live on reservations or in other rural areas where people do not have street addresses; even if they do, lawyers for the challengers argue, those addresses are frequently not included on tribal IDs. Moreover, the lawyers add, Native Americans in North Dakota are "disproportionately homeless."
Back in April, a federal district court ordered that the state accept ID cards showing a PO box address. As Daniel L. Hovland, the judge in that lower court, wrote, the demand for a street address would discriminate against thousands of Native Americans, since
The State has acknowledged that Native American communities often lack residential street addresses [...] Nevertheless, under current State law an individual who does not have a 'current residential street address' will never be qualified to vote. This is a clear 'legal obstacle' inhibiting the opportunity to vote." [emphasis in original]
Hovland also held that demanding a street address could not be justified under the National Voter Registration Act "or any other federal state laws[.]" Unfortunately, in September, a federal appeals court decided it would be just peachy for the state to demand a fixed street address to prevent voter fraud, even though the state has only found a single case of voter fraud in decades -- one guy who voted in two different counties in 2016.
Sucks to be you, thousands of Native voters! Also sucks to be Heidi Heitkamp, for whom this law appears to be tailor-made, as Pema Levy explains at Mother Jones:
Heitkamp won her seat by less than 3,000 votes in 2012 with strong backing from Native Americans, and she is the only statewide elected Democrat. North Dakota Republicans began changing voting rules to make it harder to cast a ballot months after Heitkamp's victory six years ago.
Ah, but there's nothing in the law specifically announcing "We are passing this bill to discriminate against Democrats, Native Americans, and Heidi Heitkamp," so the mere fact the law will have that effect doesn't necessarily make it discriminatory, at least under the very special rules the Republican-run Court seems determined to follow. (Seriously, go read that chilling Adam Serwer piece on how the Court is beginning to resemble its post-Reconstruction forerunner.)
Now, this ruling doesn't mean that Native people in North Dakota are completely out of luck when it comes to voting this fall. For one thing, North Dakota is unique in that it requires no voter registration at all, so the only deadline for getting a satisfactory ID is Election Day. And it's still possible for voters with no assigned street address to get an ID, although of course it involves a workaround:
Workarounds involve some work, which is the whole point of voter-suppression laws, now isn't it? Fortunately, there are groups to help people get that work done and jump through the hoops. And homeless people can register with the address where they sleep. But that doesn't at all erase the fact that Republicans just plain like making voting harder, in the name of combating the phantom plague of "voter fraud," which is already illegal.
If it makes you feel any better, in Missouri, where Claire McCaskill is also fighting to hold on to her US Senate seat, a state judge just put the kibosh on part of Missouri's voter ID law, which of course was also passed to help Republicans. No surprise, the state is already planning an appeal, and there's no telling whether the case will get a final decision by Election Day. God knows just letting every American vote can't be allowed, because heavens, that would be like the Rwandan Genocide.
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