North Dakota Native Americans Speak Out to Protect Their Right to Vote

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Dion Jackson
Dion Jackson. Photo credit: Forum News Service

"To me, it almost seems like the state does not want Native Americans to be heard, they just expect to take advantage of us again." 

- Dion Jackson, disenfranchised North Dakota voter

Under current law, North Dakotans can’t vote unless they have identification that shows their name, birth date and residential address. The problem is, many Native Americans living on reservations do not have street addresses, and therefore do not currently have IDs that meet this requirement.

But it’s even worse than that: voters have been rejected because their state-issued or tribal IDs include their address, but the state database — which is riddled with errors, inconsistencies and gaps — doesn’t recognize that address. The North Dakota Native American community has been mobilizing to provide the necessary IDs to those living on reservations, with no help from the state of North Dakota. Despite their efforts, North Dakota’s strict voter ID law could prevent up to 1,000 people from casting a ballot in the upcoming election on November 6.

Here are stories from eligible, Native American voters in North Dakota who are fighting for their right to vote. 

Dion Jackson and Kara Longie

Dion Jackson lives on Spirit Lake Reservation and is a U.S. citizen. He wanted to vote absentee in the 2018 Election, but his right to vote an absentee ballot was denied on the basis of a supposedly “invalid” address, despite using an address that is on his North Dakota state-issued ID.

This is the only address he and previous residents of his home have ever known, and is used by FedEx and UPS to deliver packages, but the ND DOT database says this is not an address they have on file or is an invalid address. His address also does not match an address on Secretary of State’s “My Voting information” online tool. There is no street sign on Dion’s street, and there is no number on his house. The only other address Dion has is a P.O. Box, which is not valid to use for voting, under the Voter ID law. 

Kara Longie is Dion’s partner and lives with him at the same address with their two children. She is a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe and a citizen. She wants to vote in 2018 Election but she is afraid she will be denied when she arrives at the polls on Election Day because her ID has the same “invalid” address as Dion. 

Kara has used the same residential address in Tokio, North Dakota for years. This is the only address that Kara has ever known but somehow the Secretary of State’s “My Voting Information” online tool states that Kara’s address is in Warwick, North Dakota, over a mile away.  Kara has listed her Tokio residential address on her North Dakota state-issued ID, with her bank, her cable company, and has received mail there via UPS and FedEx. Since Kara’s residential address does not match her state-issued ID she fears that she will not be able to vote on Election Day.

 

Leslie & Clark Peltier

"We are trying to following the state’s program as must as possible, but the addresses don’t match, names are being assigned to streets with no notice, and well-traveled streets with names we knew and recognized are being changed. I’m afraid that I may not be able to exercise my right to vote on Election Day because of the discrepancies."

- Leslie Peltier, disenfranchised North Dakota voter

Leslie and Clark Peltier are married and live on Trust Land north of the Turtle Mountain reservation boundary. They want to vote in the 2018 Election and are both U.S. citizens. The couple has lived in the same home for the past twelve years about 11 miles northwest of Belcourt, North Dakota.

During the 2012 election, the Peltiers went to vote at their polling place in Belcourt. The 911 address they were assigned was in Belcourt. However during a following election, the couple received conflicting information at the polls. The poll worker told them that they should be voting in St. John, a town off the Reservation. The couple received further conflicting information from the Secretary of State’s “My Voting Information” online tool that listed them as living at an address in St. John, not in Belcourt.

The Peltiers do not have any identification that lists an address in St. John. They have state-issued driver’s licenses with their address listed as Belcourt. Leslie and Clark fear that they will not be allowed to vote on Election Day because of the discrepancies between their state-issued ID address and the residential address that the state generated. 

Kim Twinn

Kim Twinn is a resident of Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation and a U.S. citizen. Kim lives with her aunt and has lived there for approximately one year. She has lived on the Standing Rock Reservation her entire life. Kim only has two forms of identification: her Fort Yates birth certificate and her enrollment certificate from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Both of these documents indicate her name and birth date but not her residential address. She does not own a home, have her name on bank statements, or have utility bills delivered to her house. She does not have a job and therefore does not receive a paycheck. Kim cannot receive a tribal ID from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as she is not an enrolled member of that tribe. Kim wants to vote on Election Day but does not have a way to obtain supplemental documentation of her residential address that would allow her to do so. 

Terry Yellow Fat

Terry Yellow Fat is a resident of Fort Yates, North Dakota. A few years ago, a sign was put up near his house that said “Buffalo Avenue.” Sometime after that sign went up, Terry spoke to the sheriff to receive his 911 address. He was given an address on 92nd Street, not Buffalo Avenue. Terry, and his family, started to use that address for packages but the packages did not arrive. The UPS delivery person found Terry and his family and Terry found out that the address on 92nd Street address belongs to a liquor store down the street, not his residence. Terry uses his P.O. Box to receive mail and his P.O. Box is listed on his tribal ID. He does not have any identification that lists an address on 92nd Street. For this reason, even though Terry wants to vote on Election Day, he cannot meet the new residential address documentation requirement.

Spirit Lake Tribe

Spirit Lake Tribe is a federally recognize Sioux Tribe with an enrollment population for 8,001 members. Approximately 3,776 of the Reservations’ residents are over 18 years old. Spirit Lake Reservation has a family poverty rate of 41.3 percent. 

Spirit Lake Tribe members are directly impacted by North Dakota’s voter ID law. Many streets on the Spirit Lake Reservation do not have marked signs on them and many houses are not labeled with numbers. On parts of the Reservation, the residences do not have street addresses assigned. On parts of the Reservation, mail service does not exist and members often rely upon P.O. Boxes to receive mail. Last week, Spirit Lake Tribe identified 262 members that had tribal IDs without residential street addresses. Well over a hundred of those members have not yet been issued an updated tribal ID with a residential street address. Spirit Lake Tribe is expending substantial resources to ensure that as many of its enrolled members as possible have acceptable forms of ID for voting, but it does not have the resources to issue tribal IDs for free indefinitely.  The State of North Dakota has not provided the Spirit Lake Tribe with any resources, financial or otherwise, to assist members in obtaining IDs with residential street addresses, as is now required by law to vote.

The Spirit Lake Tribe wants to ensure its members can vote on Election Day. If some of its members are unable to vote, it diminishes their collective political power and Spirit Lake Tribe’s ability to advocate effectively for crucial resources for the Spirit Lake Tribe and the Reservation.