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Appeals court ruling favors ND voter ID law said to discriminate against Native Americans

A voting sign is seen outside West Acres mall in south Fargo on Nov. 4, 2014. Forum file photo

FARGO — An appeals court delivered a blow to Native American plaintiffs who say North Dakota’s voter identification requirements are unconstitutional and discriminatory in an appeal released Wednesday, July 31.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of North Dakota’s voter identification law, canceling a lower court’s opinion that sided with the Native American plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs, each from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, sued North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger in January 2016, alleging that the state's voter ID requirements create a burden for indigenous people. The suit claimed some plaintiffs were refused the right to vote in November 2014 because their tribal ID didn’t list a current residential address.

In August 2016, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, of Bismarck, ruled in favor of the Native Americans, saying the ID law “imposed excessively burdensome requirements on Native American voters in North Dakota.” The judge issued an injunction and ruled that the state must accept IDs and supplemental documentation with a current mailing address, which allowed post office boxes to be used. In 2017, the court issued a new injunction after the state Legislature passed a new law requiring a person's current residential street address to vote.

In October 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court waded into the case after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay ahead of the impending November election, temporarily allowing the state to continue using its voter identification requirements. The plaintiffs appealed to the country's highest court, which upheld the stay.

And Wednesday, July 31, the circuit court issued an opinion overturning Judge Hovland’s injunction. In the opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton wrote that "the alleged burdens do not justify a statewide injunction," allowing North Dakota to continue using its identification requirements. The case has been remanded, or kicked back, to the district court level, according to the circuit court’s ruling.

In an email, North Dakota Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, said the ruling was “disappointing.” Buffalo, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, said, “Communities will continue to fight for justice.”