North Dakota’s Voter ID Law Disproportionately Affects Nativ

OJ Semans has been driving nearly a thousand miles through North Dakota Indian Country to mobilize voters and troubleshoot voting hurdles in the final days before the 2018 midterm elections. But he might not have been here without a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month on a state law that threatens voting access for thousands of Native Americans in the state.

Semans thinks the law mdash which requires voters to present identification that displays a street address and disproportionately affects Native Americans on reservations, where street addresses are not common mdash could actually have a mobilizing effect, encouraging more Native Americans to try to vote, even as advocates fear many people will still be turned away.

Semans and his wife, Barb mdash both enrolled members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota mdash have been visiting the Standing Rock, Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain reservations in North Dakota to set up phone banks, prepare maps and coordinate with tribal leaders who are scrambling to print identification cards and assign street addresses to residents who have never had one. On Tuesday, they will join more than 100 people in Turtle Mountain, knocking on doors and driving people to and from the polls to vote, aiming to turn out 3,000 people on the reservation.

ldquoYou can only push somebody so far before they have to start pushing back,#8221 says Semans, the co-executive director of Four Directions, a group that promotes voting access for Native Americans and is currently organizing on the ground in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and North Dakota, employing upwards of 800 people for get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. #8220We are going to warrior up. We are going to go to the polls, and we are going to make sure North Dakota and every other state that natives are in are aware we are here.rdquo

The law has drawn particular attention because of North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who won her 2012 election by fewer than 3,000 votes mdash a victory widely attributed to her support among Native Americans. But the new voter ID law is expected to affect voting access for as many as 5,000 Native Americans in the state, and Heitkamp is facing a fierce challenge from Republican Kevin Cramer, who is leading in many polls by an average of 11.4 points, according to Real Clear Politics.

Voting advocates and tribal leaders have warned that the law will systematically disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans, who already face significant barriers to voting, if they lack the necessary documents or were assigned addresses with incorrect or conflicting house numbers or zip codes. Semans is one of hundreds of activists now working furiously to combat that before Tuesday.

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