On June 12, North Dakota voters will decide which candidates for statewide and legislative office will appear on the November ballot. Because North Dakota’s primary elections are open to all voters regardless of their partisan affiliation, any eligible voter may vote in any one party’s primary.
But it’s not that easy.
Once again, voting requirements have changed in North Dakota. North Dakota’s legislature was hard at work during the 2017 legislative session figuring out how to change the voter ID law it has meddled with for three legislative sessions. Specifically, the legislature was working to find a way to deal with the fact that voters without a North Dakota driver’s license, non-driver ID, or tribal ID could use voter affidavits to vote (and many did during the 2016 general election), thanks to a federal court ruling that declared the 2015 version of the legislature’s voter ID law (which did not allow voter affidavits) was likely unconstitutional.
And find a way they did. In 2017, North Dakota’s politicians amended the state’s voter ID law to require that all IDs list a current residential street address to be valid at the polls. No big deal, right? Wrong. This requirement disenfranchises nearly 16,000 Native American voters in North Dakota who have P.O. boxes instead of assigned residential addresses.
Another change to the 2017 voter ID law is the addition of “set-aside” ballots, or provisional ballots as they’re more commonly known in other areas of the country. Under the new law, if you don’t have a driver’s license or a valid voter ID, you can vote using a “set-aside” ballot. But unlike a ballot cast using a voter affidavit, this ballot is not counted immediately. It is set aside – hence the name – until the voter physically returns with a valid ID within six days to an unspecified election office.
The problem, however, with a “set-aside” ballot is that it places additional burdens on the voter, including more travel time and expense and the challenge of determining where to return to present ID. And, if you don’t have a valid ID, you’re just plain out of luck. A “set-aside” ballot still requires one. That’s a big problem because 30.6 percent of otherwise qualified voters in North Dakota do not have a valid voter ID.
The legislature has eased some of the onerous voter ID restrictions it enacted. Now voters can bring supplemental documentation like a utility bill, bank statement, or federal or state-issued document that contains the information required on an official ID (like a current residential street address) to address any misinformation on a voter’s official ID. But more changes to the law could be on the way. With just weeks to go before the June primaries, the same federal court that reinstated voter affidavits after it found the legislature’s 2015 voter ID law was likely unconstitutional, determined some of the 2017 changes to the voter ID law are unconstitutional, too. The court has stopped the Secretary of State from enforcing parts of the law. While the court’s ruling is not a total victory, it does reign in some of the damage the legislature has yet again wrought upon voting rights in this state.
Because the voting laws are always changing in North Dakota whether by legislative or court decree, here’s what you need to know before you go to the polls this June:
- Bring an ID. Only three IDs are accepted at the polls: a North Dakota driver’s license, a North Dakota non-driver ID, or a tribal ID. Your ID does NOT need to have a residential address listed (the federal court says so)!
- If your ID isn’t current, bring supplemental documentation. A utility bill, bank statement, or any document issued by a tribal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), other tribal agencies or authorities, or any other document, letter, writing, enrollment card, or other forms of tribal identification can provide the missing or outdated information (name, current residential street address or mailing address, and date of birth).
- Voter affidavits are OUT. “Set-aside” ballots are IN. If you forget your ID or supplemental documents, you can vote using a “set-aside” ballot. If you vote this way, you have to return to the polling place on the day of the election or go to a designated election office (ask a poll worker for the location) within SIX days of the election with your ID or supplemental documents in order for your vote to count.