BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota has asked a federal judge to dismiss a Native American tribe's lawsuit challenging the state's voter identification requirements, saying in part that tribal members named in the complaint weren't impeded from voting on Election Day.
The attorney general's office in a Monday filing also argued that the state is immune from such lawsuits in U.S. District Court and that the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe doesn't have standing to sue for several reasons, including that it's unclear how the tribe might be affected by the inability of any members to vote.
Even if that were clear, attorneys said, the tribe "is not representing the interests of all of its members, merely a select few."
The lawsuit filed in late October by the Spirit Lake Sioux on behalf of itself and six tribal members came in the days leading up to the Nov. 6 general election. It was part of a larger effort to ensure that members of all North Dakota tribes could vote following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that month in a similar lawsuit filed by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Justices allowed the state to continue requiring voters to show identification with a provable street address, as opposed to addresses such as post office boxes that many reservation residents have long relied on. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in dissent that "the risk of voter confusion appears severe here."
The Spirit Lake lawsuit, filed with the help of the Native American Rights Fund and the Campaign Legal Center, alleges that the state's 911 residential street addressing system is "characterized by disarray, errors, confusion, and missing or conflicting addresses" on reservations. It seeks to have the residential address requirement ruled unconstitutional as it applies to Native American voters.
It also sought an injunction preventing the state from enforcing the requirement during the November election, but the individual plaintiffs and the state reached a deal days before the election that enabled those plaintiffs to vote.
State lawyers say that made the individual plaintiffs' claims moot.
"Any claim regarding an injury in the future is purely hypothetical and cannot satisfy the standing requirements for this claim," they said.
The secretary of state's office maintains that the state's voter ID requirements are aimed at preventing voting fraud. Some American Indians and advocates believe the Republican-dominated state government wants to subdue the vote of Native Americans, who tend to support Democrats.
The November election featured a pivotal U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and GOP challenger Kevin Cramer, who won handily despite a large voter turnout on reservations. That turnout was thanks in large part to an intense effort by tribes and advocacy groups to get Native Americans to the polls with proper identification. Experts said it's likely that only a few dozen people were unable to cast ballots.