ND Governor Signs Revamped Voter ID Bill

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North Dakota’s Governor has signed a revamped voter ID bill even as plaintiffs argue that it fails to fix a problem that led a federal court to block it last year. The West Fargo Pioneer has more:

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed legislation amending the state’s voter identification laws Monday, April 24, despite warnings it doesn’t comply with a federal judge’s ruling.

Burgum signed House Bill 1369, his spokesman Mike Nowatzki said. It comes amid a federal lawsuit challenging changes made by the Republican-led Legislature in the past two sessions.

The bill allows those who don’t bring a valid ID to the polls to cast a ballot that’s set aside until they produce an ID. If an ID doesn’t include required information or is out of date, a voter could use a current utility bill, bank statement, government-issued check, paycheck or government document to supplement the ID.

In signing the bill, Gov. Burgum argued that the new ID provision would protect the integrity of the state’s elections:

“The right to vote is a powerful underpinning of American democracy, and this legislation protects that right while offering eligible citizens multiple and straightforward opportunities to legally cast their ballot,” Burgum said in a statement. “House Bill 1369 strengthens the integrity of our elections by ensuring all voters have proper identification while allowing those without current or complete forms of ID to provide supplemental documents to verify their eligibility.”

Valid forms of ID under the bill are a driver’s license or non-driver’s ID card issued by the Department of Transportation or a tribal government-issued ID. It includes several options for those living in special circumstances, such as a long-term care facility.

But opponents of the bill – including Native Americans who successfully challenged the ID law last year – are claiming that the fix doesn’t eliminate the problem. According to the Associated Press,

“It’s just a reconfigured voter-suppression law,” said Tom Dickson, an attorney representing seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. “I don’t think it will pass constitutional muster again.”

The north-central North Dakota tribal members last year sued the state’s chief elections officer, alleging the state’s voter identification requirements are unconstitutional and “disproportionately burden and disenfranchise Native Americans.”

The lawsuit, which is pending in federal court, spurred the Legislature to attempt to fix the laws. Lawmakers this month passed legislation that allows those who don’t have proper ID to cast a ballot that is set aside until the voter’s eligibility is confirmed.

Before 2013, a voter could sign an affidavit attesting to his or her eligibility to vote in the precinct but the GOP-controlled Legislature removed that provision.

Plaintiffs are likely to return to court to argue that the new bill, which essentially replaces the affidavit requirement with supplementary non-photo ID, fails to address the discriminatory effect on some voters – and that argument may carry some weight with a court which has already ruled once against changes to the state’s ID provisions:

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland last year blocked the state’s voter ID law, and just weeks before last November’s general election, essentially reinstated the affidavit provision to allow voters who don’t have a state-required ID to cast a ballot by signing an affidavit swearing they are a qualified voter.

Hovland ruled that the state’s “ill-advised” repeal of “fail-safe” provisions in 2013 resulted in an undue burden on Native Americans trying to vote. He wrote the state could easily fix the problem by letting voters file affidavits or declarations if they don’t have a valid ID.

North Dakota’s voter ID battle encapsulates much of the debate in states across the nation today. Increasingly, opponents ID are focusing in court on the ability of voters without ID to use an affidavit to attest to their eligibility as a way to mitigate what they argue are otherwise discriminatory requirements. Legislatures unwilling to make that concession are looking for other ways around the “lack of ID” problem – and courts are being asked to decide, or find the appropriate middle ground. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in North Dakota … stay tuned!

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