The Supreme Court decided 6–2 this week, without rookie Justice Kavanaugh’s help, not to wade into the battle over North Dakota’s new stricter voter ID law, even though, as the dissenting Justice Ginsburg noted, it could prevent 18,000 to 70,000 North Dakotans from voting.
Such voter suppression is exactly the intent of North Dakota’s Republican lawmakers:
The voter ID law was introduced just months after Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, eked out a narrow upset victory in 2012, winning by less than 3,000 votes. Republican lawmakers responded by passing restrictive voter ID legislation that all but guaranteed that large numbers of Native Americans — who tend to vote Democratic — wouldn’t be able to participate in the political process. Specifically, the law requires voters to bring to the polls an ID that displays a “current residential street address” or other supplemental documentation that provides proof of such an address.
This may seem like an innocuous requirement, but in practice, it’s likely to disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans, many of whom live on reservations in rural areas and don’t have street addresses. Since the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t provide residential mail delivery in remote areas, many members of North Dakota’s Native American tribes list their mailing addresses, like P.O. boxes, on their IDs. And some also don’t have supplemental documentation, like a utility bill or bank statement, because of homelessness or poverty. Now, because the Supreme Court refused to block the law, people who show up at their polling station with a P.O. box on their ID will be turned away [Ashoka Mukpo, “Supreme Court Enables Mass Disenfranchisement of North Dakota’s Native Americans,” ACLU, 2018.10.12].
With the Supreme Court’s imprimatur, North Dakota’s voter suppression law sets a precedent for disenfranchising RV voters as well. North Dakota’s 2017 HB 1369 calls for a “current residential street address.” A bank of mailboxes in an office, like the one that abruptly shuttered in Madison in July and stranded its itinerant customers, would not qualify as a “residence,” which the 2017 law defined as “an actual fixed permanent dwelling, establishment, or any other abode to which the individual returns when not called elsewhere for labor or other special or temporary purposes.” (While a separate and thus arguably irrelevant chapter, North Dakota hunting law says “A rental property, vacant lot, or house, cabin, or premises used primarily for business or recreational pursuits may not be considered a residence.”
North Dakota has rationalized its crackdown on voter ID as a response to voter fraud, which is Republican code for Democrats winning elections. It’s certainly not code for anything happening in practical numbers affecting any election results:
But if Republicans are really worried about voter fraud, we should expect South Dakota legislators to take their cue from North Dakota and the Supreme Court and ban the practice of allowing itinerant voters to claim “residency” in a rented mailbox.