The difference between Democratic versus Republican control of the US Senate could come down to a few thousand votes in North Dakota. And the Supreme Court just put its thumb on Mitch McConnell’s side of the scale.
The high court ruled late last week in favor of a widely-criticized North Dakota voter identification law that requires eligible voters to present an ID that includes a residential address in order to cast a ballot. Because Native Americans in the state often have IDs that list post office boxes—rather than street addresses—Jacqueline De León, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, warns that “North Dakota Native American voters will now have to vote under a system that unfairly burdens them more than other voters.”
Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Mike Faith is blunter in his assessment: “Native Americans can live on the reservation without an address. They’re living in accordance with the law and treaties, but now all of a sudden they can’t vote. This law clearly discriminates against Native Americans in North Dakota.”
That discrimination is a big deal for Native Americans, whose voting rights have too frequently been undermined and assaulted.
It is, as well, a big deal for the politics of North Dakota and the nation.
North Dakota is a state where Native Americans make up 5.5 percent of the population, where Native Americans have tended to a history of giving overwhelming support to Democrats (over 80 percent in key counties in key elections) and where Democratic US Senator Heidi Heitkamp is now running a hard race to retain a seat to which she was elected in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes (50.2 percent for the Democrat to 49.3 percent for her Republican rival). Those numbers point to the very real prospect that the discrimination the high court has permitted could disrupt grassroots democracy on November 6. And it won’t stop there.
In this contentious year, disruption in one state has the potential to disrupt the battle for control of the Congress.
Heitkamp is generally seen as the most endangered Democratic incumbent of 2018, especially since she opposed the nomination of Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, in a state that in 2016 backed Trump with a 63-27 landslide. But the Democrat, an able campaigner with deep roots in North Dakota, is still holding her own. She trails Republican Kevin Cramer, but her numbers are far better than those posted by Hillary Clinton in the state two years ago—and Heitkamp has a history of outperforming her poll numbers, finishing strong and winning narrowly on Election Day. (A number of polls and predictions pegged the senator as a likely loser going into the 2012 election that she won by 0.9 percent of the vote.)