By Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service on Jun 30, 2014 at 9:03 p.m.
BISMARCK – The American Civil Liberties Union is urging Secretary of State Al Jaeger to expand what it calls his “exceedingly narrow” interpretation of North Dakota’s new voter ID law to allow voters to use more forms of identification, warning the law could disenfranchise Native American and disabled voters, among others.
Jaeger said Monday he received the letter from the ACLU – as well as a supporting letter from the Fargo-based nonprofit Freedom Resource Center for Independent Living – on Friday and was still reviewing it to develop a response, adding, “I can just go by what the law allows.”
“As to whether we can do anything or not, that remains to be seen,” he said.
Republican lawmakers passed a bill last year that requires voters to bring an acceptable form of ID showing their current address and birth date to the polls, saying it would help eliminate voter fraud. North Dakota is the only state without voter registration.
The five valid forms of voter ID are a North Dakota driver’s license, a non-driver’s ID, a tribal-issued ID, a student ID certificate and a long-term care ID certificate. The change also removed the option of voting by affidavit.
Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU for North Dakota and South Dakota, said the letter to Jaeger was prompted in part by reports from voters who were turned away from the polls because of the new ID requirements during the June 10 statewide election and a March local election in Fargo.
Smith said she didn’t know the exact number of reports received but added it “was more than we had anticipated, and especially more than what we have received during previous elections” under the old law.
Jaeger said his office surveyed county auditors about the effects of the new ID requirements on the June 10 election. He said Monday he had the survey results but had not reviewed them yet, and he expects to release them later this week.
“Everything that we’ve gotten so far, again, doesn’t indicate that we’ve had big problems,” he said, adding that may be partly attributable to a $700,000 public education campaign his office launched in March, themed “Voting in North Dakota: Easy as Pie.”
In its letter, the ACLU noted that several of North Dakota’s tribes don’t display an address on their official IDs and that tribal communities may also lack the other permissible forms of ID. People with disabilities also are less likely to drive or be able to get to sites where they could obtain a nondriver’s ID, the letter stated.
As it did last September, the ACLU recommended Jaeger’s office expand the types of acceptable ID to include utility bills, passports, North Dakota Game and Fish licenses and concealed weapon licenses, among other forms.
The ACLU and Freedom Resource Center also suggested steps to make it easier for American Indians and people with disabilities to obtain voter IDs, including helping to cover the cost of issuing the IDs.
Nate Aalgaard, executive director of the Freedom Resource Center, which works with people with disabilities in southeastern North Dakota to help them be more independent, said one concern is that for those who ride public transportation and show up at the polls with the wrong form of ID, “You can’t just call them and say, ‘I have to get over to DMV right away.’ ”
“Hopefully there can be some easy administrative remedies that can be made,” he said.