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Judge denies Native American effort to stop North Dakota voter address rule

A federal judge said allegations of voter suppression were "great cause for concern,' but he denied request to avoid "confusion and chaos" before election.
Image: North Dakota voting
Sherri Two Horses fills out an absentee ballot last month for the 2018 midterm election at the Sioux County Court House on the Standing Rock Reservation in Fort Yates, North Dakota.Dan Koeck / Reuters

A federal judge denied a last-minute emergency request to prevent North Dakota's new street address requirement for voting from applying to Tuesday's midterm election.

The requirement presents difficulties for some Native Americans in the state who have traditionally used post office boxes, loose locators or even vouching from poll workers to vote.

Critics have said the street address requirement is an attempt at disenfranchisement that was enacted by the state's Republican-controlled legislature in the wake of Democrat Heidi Heitkamp's sub-3,000-vote election to the U.S. Senate in 2012.

It's been estimated as many as 5,000 of the state's tribal citizens, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat, have identification with a post office box address. Under the law, they'll have to get state-issued or tribal identification with a valid street address.

Daniel L. Hovland, chief judge for the U.S. District Court in North Dakota, wrote in his ruling Thursday that the allegations of voter suppression gave him "great cause for concern" and that "a detailed response from the Secretary of State" was warranted.

"The litany of problems identified in this new lawsuit were clearly predictable and certain to occur as the court noted in its previous orders," the judge stated.

However, Hovland wrote, an emergency temporary restraining order was "unwarranted given the importance of avoiding further confusion and chaos on the eve of an election."

Corey Goldstone, a spokesman for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit representing some of the plaintiffs, responded via email: "While we are disappointed with the order, Judge Hovland was correct that the evidence indicates that disenfranchisement will be 'certain.' We are considering our options."

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said by email, "We do not comment on pending litigation."

The request for emergency relief was filed Tuesday after a 6-2 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court last month affirmed a lower court ruling that essentially protects the address requirement.

"We will continue preparing for the election as we have done since September 24, 2018, when the 8th Circuit made its decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court," Jaeger said.