BISMARCK - The U.S. Supreme Court has now waded into North Dakota election law.
The high court on Tuesday, Oct. 9, responding to an emergency appeal, released a decision on a 6-2 vote that will allow the state to require a residential address on a driver's license or ID card to vote and won't accept a post office box except with supplemental proof of a residential address.
The issue has been lingering since the 2017 state Legislature approved a change in the voting law.
Originally, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland of Bismarck ruled in the case that the state must accept IDs and supplemental documentation with a current mailing address, which allowed the post office box to be used.
However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 24 granted a stay on that decision, which was then appealed to the nation's highest court.
In the Tuesday ruling, the Supreme Court then upheld the stay, rejecting the emergency appeal by attorneys representing a group of Native Americans in the state challenging North Dakota's voter ID law.
Justice Neil Gorsuch was responsible for the appeal and a majority opinion on why the North Dakota law should stand for now wasn't written by the high court. It was also noted that Judge Brett Kavanaugh didn't participate in the decision.
However, two justices, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented.
Ginsburg, in writing the dissent, said the decision could result in "voter confusion" and an "incentive to remain away from the polls."
"The risk of voter confusion appears severe here because the injunction against requiring residential address identification was in force during the primary election and because the Secretary of State's website announced for months the ID requirements" as they previously existed.
Ginsburg noted that the appeals court said voters have a month to "adapt" to the new requirement.
However, she wrote that Hovland in his ruling said that 70,000 state residents lack a qualifying ID and about 18,000 residents also lack supplemental documentation sufficient to permit them to vote.
Ginsburg then re-emphasized that the decision could result in "the all too real risk of grand-scale voter confusion."
The Native American Rights Fund, which represented the tribal members, said in an earlier release in appealing to the Supreme Court that "several thousand will be unable to vote in this year's election simply because they do not have a residential address or because they lack the documentation and/or funds to obtain the required voter identification."
However, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said in an phone interview Tuesday that he was pleased with the decision.
He emphasized that using only a post office box did not establish the residential address of the voter.
Thus, he said, it could lead voters to the wrong precinct polling place if they had only a post office box.
He said that it's not only a problem with some Native Americans who only have post office boxes on their tribal IDs. As another example, he said it could be an oil field worker who only had a post office box in the state on his ID. Or, in another case that has arisen, the oil field worker might also only have a Texas driver's license and thus couldn't vote.
Also, Jaeger said he and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who helped defend the state law, disagree with Hovland's "characterization" about the number of state residents that lack a qualifying ID.
"Based on evidence we have from the polls, 97 percent to 98 percent of voters have acceptable IDs when they show up," Jaeger said.
According to Jaeger, voters whose state-issued ID does not contain their current address do not have to obtain a replacement card. However, he said they must update their residential address with the Department of Transportation at www.dot.nd.gov or by calling 701-328-4353. The address change will then be updated in the state's central voter file and then in the poll books used at precinct polling locations, Jaeger said.
As for those with only a post office box on their license or ID card, including tribal or U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs identification, Jaeger said they can vote if they provide a residential address with a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or any other document with a current address and date of birth.