Many Native IDs Won’t Be Accepted At North Dakota Polling Places

By: Camila Domonoske

Image: This June, instructions wre posted at an early voting precinct in Bismarck, N.D. In that primary election, tribal IDs that did not show residential addresses were accepted as voter ID. But those same IDs will not be accepted in the general election.
James MacPherson/AP.

Native American groups in North Dakota are scrambling to help members acquire new addresses, and new IDs, in the few weeks remaining before Election Day — the only way that some residents will be able to vote.

This week, the Supreme Court declined to overturn North Dakota’s controversial voter ID law, which requires residents to show identification with a current street address. A P.O. box does not qualify.

Many Native American reservations, however, do not use physical street addresses. Native Americans are also overrepresented in the homeless population, according to the Urban Institute. As a result, Native residents often use P.O. boxes for their mailing addresses, and may rely on tribal identification that doesn’t list an address.

Those IDs used to be accepted at polling places — including in this year’s primary election — but will not be valid for the general election. And that decision became final less than a month before Election Day, after years of confusing court battles and alterations to the requirements.

Tens of thousands of North Dakotans, including Native and non-Native residents, do not have residential addresses on their IDs and will now find it harder to vote.

They will have the option of proving their residency with “supplemental documentation,” like utility bills, instead of their IDs, but according to court records, about 18,000 North Dakotans don’t have those documents, either.

And in North Dakota, unlike other states, every resident is eligible to vote without advance voter registration — so people might not discover the problem until they show up to cast their ballot.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, is trailing her Republican opponent in her race for re-election. Native Americans tend to vote for Democrats.

The Republican-controlled state government says the voter ID requirement is necessary to connect voters with the correct ballot, and to prevent non-North Dakotans from signing up for North Dakota P.O. boxes and traveling to the state to vote fraudulently. In 2016, a judge overturning the law noted that voter fraud in North Dakota is “virtually non-existent.”

The state government says that residents without a street ID should contact their county’s 911 coordinator, to sign up for a free street address and request a letter confirming that address.

A group called Native Vote ND has been sharing those official instructions on Facebook.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is telling members to get in touch if they need help obtaining a residential address and updating their tribal ID. The tribe also says it will be sending drivers to take voters to the polls on Election Day.

“Native Americans can live on the reservations without an address. They’re living in accordance with the law and treaties, but now all of a sudden they can’t vote,” Standing Rock chairman Mike Faith said in a statement. “Our voices should be heard and they should be heard fairly at the polls just like all other Americans.”

Meanwhile, the Bismarck Tribune reports that a Native American organization is working to come up with a last-minute solution for voters who would otherwise be turned away:

“Bret Healy, a consultant for Four Directions, which is led by members of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the organization believes it has a common-sense solution.

“The group is working with tribal leaders in North Dakota to have a tribal government official available at every polling place on reservations to issue a tribal voting letter that includes the eligible voter’s name, date of birth and residential address.”

A state official told tribal leaders that such letters will be accepted as proof of residency, the Tribune reports.

Heitkamp called the ID law “burdensome” and once again called for a law to protect the voting rights of Native Americans. She and other legislators have introduced such a bill year after year, unsuccessfully.

“Given the number of Native Americans who have served, fought, and died for this country, it is appalling that some people would still try and erect barriers to suppress their ability to vote,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “Native Americans served in the military before they were even allowed to vote, and they continue to serve at the highest rate of any population in this country.”

The ACLU said the Supreme Court’s decision “enables mass disenfranchisement.” “In an election that may wind up being decided by just a few thousand votes, the court’s decision could be deeply consequential for the country, not just those who live in North Dakota,” staff reporter Ashoka Mukpo wrote on Friday.

In 2016, the Harvard Law Review found that Native Americans “routinely face hurdles in exercising the right to vote and securing representation,” and that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was only a partial solution to the problem.

In: npr

Supreme Court To Decide If Mexican Nationals May Sue For Border Shooting

The cellphone video is vivid. A border patrol agent aims his gun at an unarmed 15-year-old some 60 feet away, across the border with Mexico, and shoots him dead.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case testing whether the family of the dead boy can sue the agent for damages in the U.S.

Between 2005 and 2013, there were 42 such cross-border shootings, a dramatic increase over earlier times.

The shooting took place on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico.

The area is about 180 feet across. Eighty feet one way leads to a steep incline and an 18-foot fence on the U.S. side — part of the so-called border wall that has already been built. An almost equal distance the other way is another steep incline leading to a wall topped by a guardrail on the Mexican side.

In between is a the dry bed of the Rio Grande with an invisible line in the middle that separates the U.S. and Mexico. Overhead is a railroad bridge with huge columns supporting it, connecting the two countries.

In June 2010, Sergio Hernández and his friends were playing chicken, daring each other to run up the incline on the U.S. side and touch the fence, according briefs filed by lawyers for the Hernández family.

At some point U.S. border agent Jesus Mesa, patrolling the culvert, arrived on a bicycle, grabbed one of the kids at the fence on the U.S. side, and the others scampered away. Fifteen-year-old Sergio ran past Mesa and hid behind a pillar beneath the bridge on the Mexican side.

As the boy peeked out, Agent Mesa, 60 feet or so away on the U.S. side, drew his gun, aimed it at the boy, and fired three times, the last shot hitting the boy in the head.

Although agents quickly swarmed the scene, they are forbidden to cross the border. They did not offer medical aid, and soon left on their bikes, according to lawyers for the family.

A day after the shooting, the FBI’s El Paso office issued a press release asserting that agent Mesa fired his gun after being “surrounded” by suspected illegal aliens who “continued to throw rocks at him.”

Two days later, cell phone videos surfaced contradicting that account. In one video the boy’s small figure can be seen edging out from behind the column; Mesa fires, and the boy falls to the ground.

“The statement literally says he was surrounded by these boys, which is just objectively false,” says Bob Hilliard, who represents the family. Pointing to the cell phone video, he says it is “clear that nobody was near ” agent Mesa.

In one video, a woman’s voice is heard saying that some of the boys had been throwing rocks, but the video does not show that, and by the time the shooting takes place, nobody is surrounding agent Mesa.

The U.S. Department of Justice decided not to prosecute Mesa. Among other things, the department concluded that it did not have jurisdiction because the boy was not on U.S. soil when he was killed.

Mexico charged the agent with murder, but when the U.S. refused to extradite him, no prosecution could go forward.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol did not discipline agent Mesa—a fact that critics, including high-ranking former agency officials, say reflects a pattern inside the agency.

The parents of the slain boy, however, have sued Mesa for damages, contending that the killing violated the U.S. Constitution by depriving Sergio Hernández of his life.

“I can’t believe that this is allowed to happen – that a border patrol agent is allowed to kill someone on the Mexican side, and nothing happens,” Sergio’s mother, Maria Guadalupe Güereca Betancour, says through an interpreter.

As the case comes to the Supreme Court, there has been no trial yet and no court finding of facts. Mesa continues to maintain that he shot the boy in self-defense after being surrounded by rock-throwing kids.

That’s a scenario that Mesa’s lawyers say is borne out by other videos from stationary cameras that have not been released to the public.

“It was clear that Agent Mesa was in an area that is wrought with narcotics trafficking and human trafficking,” asserts Randolph Ortega, who represents Mesa on behalf of the border patrol agents union. “And it’s clear that, in my opinion, he was defending himself.”

The only question before the Supreme Court centers on whether the Hernández family has the right to sue. A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that no reasonable officer would have done what Agent Mesa did, and that therefore the family could sue.

However, the full court of appeals reversed that judgment, ruling that because the Hernández boy was standing on the Mexico side of the border and was a Mexican citizen with no ties to the United States, his family could not sue for a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the appeals court said that even if the facts as alleged by the Hernández family are true, Mesa is entitled to qualified immunity, meaning he cannot be sued because there is no clearly established body of law barring his conduct.

Lawyers for the Hernández family counter that Supreme Court precedents establish a practical approach in determining whether there is a right to sue for the use of excessive force in circumstances like these. Lawyer Hilliard says yes, the boy was across the border when the shots were fired, but by just 60 feet.

“This is a domestic action by a domestic police officer standing in El Paso, Texas, who is to be constrained by this country’s constitution,” Hilliard contends. “There’s a U.S. Supreme Court case that says a law enforcement officer cannot seize an individual by shooting him dead, which is what happened in this case.”

Hilliard argues that if you follow the border patrol’s argument to its necessary conclusion, “it means that a law enforcement officer is immune to the Constitution when exercising deadly force across the border.

“He could stand on the border and target practice with the kids inside the culvert,” Hilliard warns.

But lawyer Ortega replies that’s not true, and asks how the court should draw the line.

“How far does it extend? Does it extend 40 feet? As far as the bullet can travel? All of Juárez, Mexico? All of (the state of) Chihuahua, Mexico? Where does the line end?”

Backed by the federal government, he suggests that a ruling in favor of the Hernández family would mean foreigners could sue over a drone attack.

Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide where to draw the line.

In: npr