ACLU of Minnesota Pleased With Court Order Protecting Native American Voting Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
September 13, 2005 12:00 am

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ST. PAUL-The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota today praised a court order ensuring that American Indian voters will be able to register to vote using their Tribal identification on the same par as a state-issued driver’s license.

“”Voting is at the core of our representative democracy,”” said ACLU of Minnesota Executive Director Chuck Samuelson. “”This consent decree permanently removes a significant obstacle to voting for many American Indians in this state.””

The order, known as a consent decree, was issued as a result of a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Bonnie Dorr-Charwood, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibe, and Richard Smith and Tracy Martineau, members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, against Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. The consent decree was approved yesterday by Federal Court Chief Judge Rosenbaum.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed on October 27, 2004, charged that the state’s failure to conform with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and its restrictions on the use of tribal IDs at the polls could disenfranchise thousands of Minnesota voters on November 2, including many Native Americans.

Minnesota law prohibited the use of a valid, federally recognized tribal ID for election-day registration if the voter did not live on a reservation. Additionally, if the voter’s tribal ID did not include an address, Minnesota law prohibited acceptance of the ID together with a current utility bill to show the voter’s current address. The ACLU noted that the state allowed other forms of ID without a current address if provided with a current utility bill.

On October 29, 2004, Judge James M. Rosenbaum issued granted a temporary restraining order allowing the use of Indian tribal identification cards – or a tribal ID plus a utility bill with the current address — as proper identification for American Indians whether or not they live on the reservation.

In the interim, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing the use of tribal IDs regardless of whether the voter lives on the reservation; however, the new law requires the tribal ID to contain the voter’s current address. Today’s consent decree establishes that American Indian voters may use their tribal IDs with a current utility bill to register to vote. The decree calls for the Secretary of State to commence rulemaking by April 1, 2006 to include tribal ID cards on the list of acceptable photo identification cards.

The remainder of the lawsuit relating to HAVA compliance was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice and the ACLU will be working to get the legislature to adopt changes to state law to ensure full compliance.

“”We are pleased with this victory,”” Samuelson said, “”and we look forward to increased American Indian voter turnout in future elections.””

The consent decree in ACLU v. Kiffmeyer is online at /node/35480

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