Tim Purdon and Bryan Sells: Indian Country faces barriers to voting

Voting in North Dakota is "easy as pie" according to an official state poster but a federal judge found otherwise in a lawsuit filed by members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Image from North Dakota Secretary of State

Tribal citizens across the nation still face difficulties when it comes time to exercise their voting rights. Attorneys Tim Purdon and Bryan Sells believe a recent case from North Dakota will set a powerful precedent for efforts going forward:
The summer of 2016 has seen a series of decisions from state and federal courts across the country striking down onerous new voting laws. In the last two weeks of July alone, courts ruled against an array of voting restrictions in Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. These rulings followed a decision in May that struck down an Ohio law that would have rolled back early voting and same-day registration.

Then, on August 1, 2016, the federal district court in North Dakota issued an order in Brakebill v. Jaeger, 1:16-CV-008 DLH (D.N.D. August 1, 2016) and joined this growing list of jurisdictions rejecting restrictions on the right to vote. Brakebill, however, was the first such decision to focus on the impact of anti-voter laws on American Indian voters living on reservations. The court’s analysis in Brakebill, which highlights many of the unique challenges faced by these Native voters, establishes an important precedent that will be useful as American Indian voters across the United States fight to protect their voting rights.

The Brakebill court identified many challenges to obtaining an acceptable voter ID that disproportionately impact American Indians. The court based these findings on a statistical survey of North Dakota voters which found that American Indian voters in North Dakota were much less likely than their non-Indian counterparts to have a current acceptable photo ID, to have a current North Dakota driver’s license, and to own or lease a car. Further, American Indian voters in North Dakota were more likely to lack the underlying documents necessary to obtain an acceptable ID and were, on average, required to travel twice as far as non-Indians to visit a Driver’s License site. Tellingly, the State of North Dakota did not dispute or challenge any of these findings. The court then found that the voter ID laws had disenfranchised American Indian voters in North Dakota and that North Dakota lacked any proof that the allegations of in-person voter fraud which purported to establish a public interest in the challenged voter ID requirements were real.

Read More:
Tim Purdon and Bryan Sells: Protecting Voting Rights and Indian Country: A Precedent Setting Victory (Indian Country Today 9/1)

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