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A U.S. District Court judge has blocked a North Dakota law requiring voters to show identification when they go to the polls — the fifth ruling knocking down or delaying similar laws in the last two weeks.
Judge Daniel Hovland on Monday ordered North Dakota to halt its implementation of one of the most restrictive voter identification laws in the country, a law he said placed a disproportionate burden on Native American voters who are most likely to lack an identification or the underlying documents necessary to obtain one, such as a birth certificate.
The state law, passed by the GOP-dominated legislature in 2015, allows only three types of acceptable identification to receive a ballot: A state-issued driver's license or ID card or a tribal ID card. Showing a military ID card would not be sufficient to obtain a ballot.
But, Hovland said, many tribal ID cards do not list a resident's current address, which would disqualify those forms of identification.
A study submitted by lawyers representing the seven plaintiffs found nearly a quarter of Native Americans in North Dakota do not have an acceptable identification card, while just 12 percent of non-Native Americans lack a proper ID. Lawyers representing Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R), who defended the law, did not dispute the study.
"The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that Native Americans face substantial and disproportionate burdens in obtaining each form of ID deemed acceptable under the new law," Hovland wrote.
For decades, North Dakota had the most permissive voting laws in the nation. Because of its small population, election clerks didn't even have to maintain voter rolls; the legislature trusted local poll workers to recognize neighbors as they came to vote.
But the state legislature passed a law requiring one of several forms of identification in 2013. That law allowed Jaeger's office to designate other forms of identification as acceptable to poll workers.
Two years later, the legislature eliminated the provision giving Jaeger discretion to add new forms of identification to a list of acceptable documents.
Under the new law, North Dakota became the only state that did not allow someone without a proper identification to cast a provisional ballot, then prove their identity later.
Even states like Texas and Kansas, which have some of the most restrictive voter identification laws in the nation, allow a voter to cast a provisional ballot.
Supporters of the new law said it would prevent voter fraud. But in his ruling, Hovland said he saw a "total lack of any evidence to show voter fraud has ever been a problem in North Dakota."
The ruling is the fifth in recent weeks to knock down a restrictive voting ordinance. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday blocked a North Carolina law that made several changes to state election rules, including a new requirement that voters show identification.
The same day, a federal judge ordered Wisconsin to simplify the process of obtaining identification, a week after the judge blocked Wisconsin's voter identification law.
A Kansas judge ordered the state to count votes from those who did not provide proof of citizenship when they registered to vote using a federal form. And two weeks ago, the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Texas voter identification law.