In North Dakota, Native Americans Try to Turn an ID Law to Their Advantage

Four Directions informed Secretary Jaeger of this plan in early October and asked him to endorse it. In his response, which his office provided to The Times, Mr. Jaeger declined, saying that whether tribes had the authority to create their own addresses was a question beyond his office’s purview. He added, however, that he could not “dictate the style or format of the identification used by a tribal government if it contains the required voter information,” suggesting that a letter with a handwritten address should be as valid as an ID card.

The pace of working with potential voters has been relentless for the tribes. Ms. Jackson-Street said Spirit Lake had identified and was trying to reach 211 members without residential addresses, in addition to printing ID cards for members who had addresses but no document showing them. Robin Smith, the tribe’s enrollment director, said last Tuesday that she had been too inundated with ID requests to budge from her chair all morning.

Merle White Tail, 50, had no street address, so Ms. Smith assigned one. Grant Cavanaugh, 32, had an address on file but didn’t know what it was, so she looked it up. Darien Spotted Bird, 21, had an ID card that misspelled his address, so she printed a new one.

Then there are more subtle problems. For instance, while Sioux County does not offer early voting, it does — like all North Dakota counties — allow early, no-excuse-needed absentee voting, which is functionally almost identical. But Mr. Semans said that when one woman went to the county auditor’s office and asked to vote early, the auditor, Barbara Hettich, simply told her there was no early voting and didn’t mention the absentee option. (Ms. Hettich did not respond to a request for comment.)

Later, when Ms. Young filled out an absentee ballot, Ms. Hettich told her she had to use blue ink or the ballot would not be counted. But literature on the secretary of state’s website says ballots must be filled out in black ink. Mr. Semans ping-ponged back and forth between Standing Rock and Bismarck, trying to get a guarantee that ballots would not be thrown out because of ink color. On Friday, Lee Ann Oliver in the secretary of state’s office told The Times that both blue and black were acceptable.

The scene at the get-out-the-vote headquarters in Fort Yates last Monday showed how hurriedly the whole effort there had been put together. The room was mostly empty. There was a small table, a couple of armchairs, some old swivel chairs, all delivered the day before. The team was trying to create a voter database from a list of people who bought propane last winter. The phones were not hooked up yet.

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