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Bill would require North Dakota voters to prove citizenship

Attorney General Drew Wrigley released an opinion about a week before Election Day stating North Dakota has no constitutionally permissible method by which to require proof of citizenship to vote.

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Voters cast ballots at the Bismarck Event Center on Nov. 3, 2020.
Kyle Martin / The Forum
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FARGO — Republican North Dakota lawmakers have introduced a bill that says "a qualified elector shall provide satisfactory proof of citizenship" before receiving a ballot to vote.

The question of proving citizenship arose in the June primary election in Cass County, when people of color reported being turned away from the West Acres polling station in Fargo after they could not immediately prove their citizenship.

Subsequently, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley r eleased an opinion about a week before Election Day in November upholding an earlier opinion by then Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick, who maintained state law has no statutory requirement or constitutionally permissible method by which to require proof of citizenship from voters.

The upshot of those opinions was that current law does not permit an election official to require a voter to prove citizenship in order to vote.

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Judy Lee.
Submitted photo

State Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, one of the lawmakers sponsoring the new bill, Senate Bill 2157 , said the legislation would amend and expand current law to make it clear voters must provide proof of citizenship before being allowed to vote.

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Lee's bill would make an unexpired U.S. passport a valid form of identification showing that someone is an eligible voter as well as a citizen. The bill spells out other satisfactory proof-of-citizenship documentation as well, including:

  • a driver's license or nondriver's identification issued by the Department of Transportation that indicates a cardholder is a citizen.
  • a legible copy of the voter's birth certificate that verifies citizenship.
  • naturalization documents or the number of the certificate of naturalization.

Under current law, if someone believes they are an eligible voter but they do not have identification verifying that status when they arrive at a polling site they can ask election officials to provide them with what is known as a "provisional ballot," which they can fill out and leave with election officials.
If the voter can later show election officials identification that verifies them as an eligible voter, the ballot can be counted, as long as the verification is made prior to the meeting of the election canvassing board.

Lee said the proposed bill would preserve the provisional ballot process when it comes to identification issues. She said the legislation would also come into play if someone is a U.S. citizen but doesn't have proof of citizenship when they show up at a polling site, meaning someone in that situation may fill out a provisional ballot and leave it with election workers.

Lee noted that one reason she's proposing the legislation is because she's aware there are situations where long-term residents of North Dakota believe they are qualified to vote, even though they are not citizens. The bill aims to make clear that proof of citizenship is required to vote, she said.

Election watchers have reported that some people who were trying to vote in recent elections left the polls without voting after being asked to provide proof of citizenship.

Mary Tintes, a member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley and vice president of the North Dakota League of Women Voters, recently volunteered as an election observer at the West Acres community room.

Tintes said in one case she saw election workers turn away a man after he was asked if he was a U.S. citizen and he replied no.

"The election worker said, 'Then you cannot vote' and the man left peacefully," Tintes said, adding that in another situation a woman was turned away because she did not have identification, though the woman returned later with identification and was allowed to cast her vote.

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Tintes noted, however, that in that situation the woman was not offered a provisional ballot when she was initially turned away for not having identification.

Tintes and other election watchers said they were reserving comment on the new bill pending future hearings in the Legislature.

Lee's bill is to be discussed in a legislative hearing on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Another bill filed this session, House Bill 1299 , proposes changes similar to those in Lee's bill. A hearing for that bill has not yet been scheduled.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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