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North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a red-haired Democrat in a red state, barely eked out a victory in her 2012 election campaign, winning by fewer than 3,000 votes.

It’s worse now, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week (new Justice Brett Kavanaugh, sworn in Monday, did not participate) that somehow didn’t see purposeful discrimination in a move by North Dakota Republicans disallowing a post-office box address for official voter identification.

Not coincidentally, the no-P.O. law was passed right after Heitkamp’s win six years ago, and it’s essential to note that many Native Americans in the state use a P.O. box as their address because the U.S. Postal Service does not have home delivery in their rural communities.

Oh, and Indian voters were critical to Heitkamp’s election to the Senate.

Clearly discrimination

Any rational assessment of this law and its timing should conclude that discrimination was the goal, to blunt mostly Democratic Native Americans’ ability to vote.

“The law was another Republican attempt to win elections by keeping Democratic-leaning groups from voting. … History won’t look kindly on the political party that is trying to keep Americans — usually dark-skinned Americans — from voting.” wrote New York Times columnist David Leonard in the newspaper’s Opinion Today newsletter this morning (it’s a subscriber newsletter, so I can’t link to it).

The law was challenged by a group of Native American voters, who noted that, in addition to many Indians not having the now-prerequisite street addresses, they are “disproportionately homeless” compared to the rest of the nation’s population.

Even courts viewed the law as a bald-faced, unconstitutional inequity.

No P.O.

In April of last year, federal district court Judge Daniel Hovland blocked large sections of North Dakota’s then-new, no-P.O. voter law as discriminatory, arguing in his ruling:

 “The State has acknowledged that Native American communities often lack residential street addresses. Nevertheless, under current State law an individual who does not have a ‘current residential street address’ will never be qualified to vote.”

Hovland’s ruling was in place during primaries this spring, but in September, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals unblocked the law, and the Supreme Court upheld that ruling Tuesday by declining to hear its original challenge.

Justice Ginsburg dissents

In a dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginzburg wrote, “The risk of disenfranchisement is large.”

In a Mother Jones magazine article on September 9, Pema Levy wrote:

“Ginsburg noted that according to the factual record of the case, about 20 percent of voters likely to try to cast a ballot in the midterms will lack the required identification. Another ‘approximately 18,000 North Dakota residents also lack supplemental documentation sufficient to permit them to vote without a qualifying ID,’ she noted.”

Writing in the Supreme Court-focused SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe expanded on that concern:

“Lawyers say that the ruling will prevent thousands of Native American voters (and tens of thousands of North Dakota residents who are not Native Americans) from casting a ballot in the upcoming 2018 election in a state that could play a key role in Democrats’ efforts to retake the U.S. Senate.”

Howe added:

“The state urged the justices to stay out of the dispute, emphasizing that the law is intended to combat voter fraud and guarantee that voters (who, unlike in most states, are not required to register in advance) get the right ballots when they go to the polls.”

Voter fraud? Who says?

However, such ostensible voter fraud at polling places is vanishingly rare, according to every credible investigation done of this issue, indicating the law is more of a Republican fraud on the electoral process and disenfranchisement of a particular group of Democratic voters.

One net result of all this subterfuge is that Heitkamp is going to have a much harder time getting re-elected next month, especially after showing rare courage — remember she’s a Red-state Democrat — in voting to not confirm Kavanaugh at the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination. Other Republicans on the committee, except one, Lisa Murkowsky of Alaska, swallowed their integrity and voted “yes.”

Even if Democrats end up winning back the House of Representatives in next month’s mid-term elections, they still face the historical likelihood that they’ll lose it again after two years, as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did, wrote Paul Glastris in Washington Monthly magazine:

“There was a time when divided government didn’t have to mean bad government. That time has passed. If the Obama years showed anything, it is that, when in opposition, the modern Republican Party has no goal beyond blocking the Democratic agenda, whatever that may be, and will transgress hitherto undisputed democratic norms to do so. Operationally, the GOP’s governing objectives have devolved to two base goals: transferring wealth upward, and staying in power.”

Making anti-democratic democratic

Glastris argues that this requires that the GOP increasingly rely on “anti-democratic means,” such as suppressive voter ID laws and poll purges, super-partisan gerrymandering, and packing the federal judiciary with right-wing ideologues. That’s “on top of” other unfortunate systemic features — i.e., the Electoral College and the Senate — that give the GOP outsized representation compared to its popular vote.

Glastris recommends a different path for Democrats:

“They must instead see the purpose of politics as building sustained power for Democrats, period—but, unlike the other side, they must do this in part by strengthening the democratic process, not by undermining it.”

He proposes Democrats must “maximize the voting power of its core supporters” and “get over its squeamishness and aggressively push policies designed to raise turnout among young people and minorities.”

A ‘New Voting Rights Act’

But, first and foremost if Democrats gain control of Congress, is to “champion an electoral reform agenda” to grow the number of U.S. citizens who cast ballots, Glastris urges.

“They should conduct wide-ranging hearings on every aspect of the electoral system, including its vulnerability to hacking. They should then seek out the best ways to make the system more secure and voter friendly and incorporate those solutions into a major piece of proposed legislation, a New Voting Rights Act.”

Then Native Americans and all other citizens won’t have to suffer being brazenly and arbitrarily blocked from voting by any party in power.


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Cover image of “3,001 Arabian Days.”

Now on Amazon!

FYI, my newly published memoir — 3,001 Arabian Days — is now available in paperback on Amazon, here (and soon in digital format). It’s the story of growing up in an American oil camp in the Saudi Arabian desert from 1953-1962. Hope you enjoy my memories of a fascinating and foundational experience.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...