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North Dakota Judge Rules in Favor of Native Americans on Voter ID Lawsuit

FILE - North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger speaks at a news conference in Bismarck, N.D.

North Dakota has became the latest state to have its voter identification law blocked by a federal court, adding to a string of recent rulings across the United States that such measures disenfranchise minority and lower-income voters.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland issued a preliminary injunction against the law on Monday, writing in his ruling that the voter I.D. law adds "substantial and disproportionate burdens" for Native American voters compared to other voters in the state.

"No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote," Hovland wrote.

The injunction, however, does not permanently strike down North Dakota's strict laws, which were passed by a Republican-led legislature to curb voter fraud.

Critics say such laws drive down minority or low income voters who are more likely to not own a state-issued photo I.D.

North Dakota joins North Carolina and Wisconsin, where voter-I.D. restrictions were struck down Friday by the courts.

Seven Native American voters filed a federal law suit against North Dakota measures, which were passed in 2013 and 2015.

In the lawsuit, they argued that there were too many barriers to obtain a photo I.D. They said there are no motor vehicle license offices on reservations and many Native Americans cannot afford to obtain an I.D., social security card, or birth certificate.

Before Republicans in North Dakota passed its voter I.D. law, a constituent could present a broad range of documents or simply take an oath affirming their identity.

North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger told the New York Times North Dakota would go back to using less restrictive identification rules that were enforced before the 2013 law was enacted.

On Friday, a U.S. court of appeals struck down a law in North Carolina that requires voters to show photo identification before casting their ballot. The three-judge panel ruled the law, passed in April, had "discriminatory intent" because it would primarily affect minorities and poor people.

A federal judge found that parts of a Wisconsin voter identification law passed by state Governor Scott Walker were unconstitutional. In his ruling, the judge said the law's attempt to prevent a perceived threat of election fraud by requiring photo identification or a lengthy petition process would lead to "real incidents of disenfranchisement. . . . particularly in minority communities." The judge called the law "a cure worse than the disease."

Earlier this month, a Texas photo-identification law for voters was ruled discriminatory by a U.S. appeals court. The judge in that case sent it back to a lower court to decide whether the law was meant to be discriminatory. He also asked the lower court for a short-term solution to be put in place for the November elections.

Other states that have photo-identification laws for voters include Georgia, Indiana, and Virginia.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, about 11 percent of American citizens do not have a government-issued photo I.D.