Opinion/Solutions: Poll watchers who help people vote


Organizers behind a multistate effort to assist Indigenous voters at the polls in November’s election said it proved to be a valuable tool.

North Dakota was among the states where volunteers helped Native Americans who encountered issues casting their ballot. The Native American Rights Fund worked with groups such as North Dakota Native Vote to station trained poll watchers at various sites.

Michael Carter, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said there were situations, for example, where a voter had issues tied to the state’s ID law. ”There were, in fact, some Native voters being turned away improperly,” Carter recounted. “And the matter was able to be corrected; the voters were able to come back and vote and have their votes counted.”

North Dakota Native Vote said it saw only one instance of a voter not returning to complete the process.

Carter noted that, ahead of the election, they met with the secretary of state to make sure all parties were on the same page in handling voting matters. He added it is vital for the state to detail such instances in reports in between elections, as part of a consent decree which stemmed from challenges to the ID law.

This year’s election was the first since the state’s latest redistricting process, in which two new state House subdistricts were created in tribal areas. In those districts, two Native candidates won their races.

Nicole Donaghy, executive director of North Dakota Native Vote, said they are strong examples of why tribal communities need more seats at the table when voting maps are drawn. ”We cannot elect our own people unless there’s a focused effort to create a district that is majority Native American,” Donaghy contended.

However, one of the newly-created subdistricts is being challenged in court by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, with leaders saying the lines still dilute the voting power of tribal members. Two incumbent state lawmakers with tribal roots, lost their reelection bids in November.

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