At a basic level, voter ID laws seem perfectly rational. Election security is important and requiring voters to present identification looks like a good way to prevent fraud. Yet in the United States, voter ID laws have been sharply criticized because in practice, they tend to disenfranchise voters and have the potential to reduce participation by discouraging voters from heading to the polls. Many Americans may lack the required ID and face barriers to obtaining one.
Voter ID requirements can be problematic in any state; however, they are particularly troubling in North Dakota. North Dakota’s recently upheld law requires all voters to present a photo ID with a listed physical address. The address requirement has high potential to disenfranchise voters in the state. North Dakota is home to a large number of Native American reservations. On these reservations, many residents do not have a physical address because the reservation does not have an address system or because of a variety of other factors. Furthermore, Native Americans are overrepresented in the homeless population.
Because of these unique circumstances, many North Dakota residents use a P.O. box on their identification. The new voter ID law specifically prohibits individuals from voting using such an ID. The new law thus places a substantial burden to voting for many. Some may be without a physical address and thus unable to cast a ballot.
North Dakota should repeal the voter ID law or change it to allow for voters to use IDs with P.O. box addresses. This law was challenged in federal court, however the 8th Circuit upheld the law and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
The state legislature should repeal the current law or amend it in a way that would protect the right to vote for each North Dakota resident. One way they could amend the law to protect voting rights would be to create an exception to the Voter ID requirement where voters could cast a ballot without ID as long as a poll worker could vouch for the voter. This exception would likely protect the voters who are most likely disenfranchised by the current law. The poll workers in rural communities and on reservations probably would know most, if not all of the individuals in their precincts. Voters who do not have an address would be able to vote as long as they knew one of the poll workers. Even if they did not already know a poll worker, they would have the chance to meet one before election day. This would not be difficult in a small community and would be much easier than obtaining a photo ID with a physical address.
The North Dakota state legislature has every right to prevent election fraud. They also have an obligation to ensure the voting rights of each resident are protected. Their current approach to election security tends to disenfranchise voters in the state’s most vulnerable populations and requires change.