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North Dakota Officials Tell Tribes of Election Requirements

FILE - Boarded up windows are seen on the Chippewa Indians Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota, U.S., May 11, 2016.
FILE - Boarded up windows are seen on the Chippewa Indians Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota, U.S., May 11, 2016.

North Dakota is going ahead with requiring residents to provide a street address in order to vote on Election Day, even though some American Indian tribes have argued in federal court that they sometimes aren't assigned on reservations.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office notified the state's five tribes by email late Friday of North Dakota voter ID requirements. The email said obtaining a residential street address is a quick and no-cost process that can be done by notifying 911 coordinators in any of North Dakota's 53 counties.

A file containing a downloadable poster was attached to the email.

"The effort is to educate people who vote and how to comply with the law," Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said Monday.

Elections officials sent the email Friday hours after lawyers representing a group of Native Americans appealed their lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying new voter ID requirements in place in North Dakota will lead to confusion during the upcoming election.

The emergency appeal from the tribal members came days after a federal appeals court ended an injunction in the case. The injunction would have required the state to accept forms of identification and supporting documents that included a current mailing address, such as a post office box, instead of requiring a current street address.

Street addresses aren't always assigned on Native American reservations, so members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa sued the state, alleging its ID requirements discriminated against Native Americans. A district court judge agreed in April.

American Indians tend to vote for Democrats and their vote is especially important this year, as Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is in a close race with Republican Kevin Cramer that could help determine control of the Senate.

Census data show American Indians make up only about 5 percent of North Dakota's population but tribal members' strong support for Heitkamp played a big role in her election to the U.S. Senate in 2012 by fewer than 3,000 votes.

North Dakota has required voters to provide ID since 2004. Voters without an ID were allowed to sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility to vote, but the Legislature removed that provision in 2013 shortly after Heitkamp's win. The GOP-controlled Legislature has said Heitkamp's victory had no bearing on the legislation.

The Turtle Mountain reservation is located in Rolette County in north-central North Dakota. County emergency coordinator Mike Stewart said Monday that residential street addresses have been assigned in "99 percent" of the county — including on the reservation — in the past several years.

He agreed with state elections officials that obtaining a residential street address is a no-cost and quick process that may take no more than a few hours.

"It's very possible some homes have been overlooked," Stewart said.

One problem, he said, is that many people don't realize their homes have been assigned a street address, a process that has been ongoing over the past several years.

Stewart said many people still rely on post offices boxes to get their mail.

Sioux County Sheriff Frank Landeis said that also is the case in his county, which contains the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North Dakota's largest.

Landeis said residential street addresses have been assigned to every known dwelling in the county, which covers more than 1,100 square miles in south-central North Dakota.

"As far as I know, everybody has an address down here," he said. "If they don't, it's very simple to get one."