Victory for Native American Voting Rights in North Dakota!

Three people outside a building in the snow. One of the women holds a sign that says "I Voted". A sign on the door to the building says "Vote Here".
Dion Jackson (center) and Kara Longie (right) pose for a photo with CLC's Molly Danahy after voting in November, 2018.

After a yearslong battle in court, Native Americans in North Dakota will finally face fewer obstacles to accessing the ballot. The Spirit Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently filed a binding agreement, which once approved by the court, will be enforceable by court order and provide essential voting rights safeguards.

In 2013, North Dakota’s governor signed a law requiring voters to have a valid ID with their name, birth date, and current residential address. If a “valid” residential address is not listed on the ID, ballots cast were considered ineligible unless the voter provided in-person proof of their residential address within a specified period. 

Since Native Americans on rural reservations disproportionately lack residential street addresses – and because the state of North Dakota failed to help members of the tribes acquire voter IDs that complied with the new law – the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) filed Spirit Lake Tribe et al v. Jaeger to have the law struck down.

North Dakota, in an effort to avoid having this case go to trial in the spring of 2020, reached an agreement with the two tribes that will allow Native American voters who do not have or do not know their residential address to locate their residence on a map or at the polls when applying for absentee ballots, have county officials provide their addresses, and allow their ballots to be counted.

The agreement will ensure that tribal IDs and tribally designated street addresses are accepted as valid. It will also cement commitments that state officials made in February to seek reimbursement of the tribes’ expenses in producing voter IDs and coordinate with the Department of Transportation to visit reservations before each election to provide state-issued IDs at no cost.

Over 7,000 residents in the two tribes will benefit from the agreement, and it will go into effect ahead of North Dakota’s June 9 primary election.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and NARF represented the two tribes in the legal challenge, which was consolidated with a separate suit brought by NARF in 2016.

Read more about the agreement here.

Georgia is a Communications Assistant at CLC.