Advocacy & News

Native American Voter Suppression In North Dakota

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) upheld a law which suppresses Native American voters in North Dakota. Welcome to ‘freedom’, USA style.

It’s a constitutionally protected right for citizens of the United States to be able to vote so you would be forgiven for assuming that the government would fiercely protect that right and do everything they can to remove any unnecessary barriers or at least not introduce new requirements that make it harder for specific groups of people. But that assumption is wrong.

This week in North Dakota a law was upheld by SCOTUS that now requires voters to have an ID that includes a residential (street) address. This was being contested because local Native Americans who live on reservations typically have a P.O. Box instead (listed on their ID). This was allowed in the primaries, now it isn’t – just in time for the November midterm elections.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed to outlaw voter restrictions on the basis of race because up until that point, the right to vote was governed by state law and some states barred non-Whites from voting. The right to vote for all Native Americans (and Black Americans) has only been in effect for 53 years, however, targeted voter discrimination on the basis of race is still ongoing as states can introduce laws that disproportionately affect particular racial groups as long as race isn’t specifically mentioned.

Ask yourself who stands to benefit from an action and who is disadvantaged by it? Those who hold systemic power will continue to reap the benefits of the disenfranchised – and that’s what they’re counting on because if one particular group of people can sway an election one way over another, it pays for those looking to maintain power to create blocks as ‘legally’ as they can. SCOTUS has ensured that.

Despite the state going to the Republicans in the 2016 Presidential Election, North Dakota’s senator is Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, who won by a narrow margin because Native Americans came out and voted for her. When it comes to determining Senate control in November, her seat is hugely important and could determine if Republicans hold on to their control of the chamber or not. Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is running against Senator Heitkamp, is currently leading in polls and in order to push the seat in his direction, it serves to restrict Native voters who, potentially, could swing it for the Democrats.

But it goes beyond Republican vs Democrat – the coincidence isn’t lost on me that non-White voters have the potential for real political change – they could dismantle the power structures that are deliberately weighted against them. The easiest way to keep one structure in place over another is to make sure that the ones who can bring it to its knees are disenfranchised and apathetic. By making it as hard as possible for those people affected to change things that impact their everyday existence it ensures that life is in a state of perpetual struggle – it ensures exhaustion. And it all starts with the simplest thing – the belief that a voice doesn’t matter. That the effort someone expels will be wasted anyway.

I believe that White supremacy, and the racism and misogyny that lives within it, needs to be dismantled – including the tools used to maintain it, such as restricting the voting rights of People of Colour.

Here’s how Native Americans in North Dakota can get the requisite voter ID:

via Native Vote ND (Facebook)
While I’ve got you here … Some extra reading for White women, like me, who need to hear this and/or be reminded of it: When Feminism Is White Supremacy In Heels

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