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Voter ID bill easily passes North Dakota House

BISMARCK—New voter identification requirements passed the North Dakota House Thursday, Feb. 2.

For voters who don't have a proper ID, the bill does away with the affidavit option that was available during November's election in favor of a ballot that is set aside and excluded from the count until the voter's eligibility is confirmed, said Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot. He called it a "voter integrity bill."

House Bill 1369, introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson and other Republican lawmakers, passed on a 74-16 vote Thursday.

"Everyone eligible to vote in North Dakota elections shall be able to vote one time, and everyone not eligible to vote in North Dakota elections shall not be able to vote," Louser said.

The debate on the House floor largely centered around whether the increased penalties for voter fraud included in the bill were too steep and whether voter fraud is even a problem in North Dakota.

"Raising the penalty for violating this bill to a felony is just mean-spirited and unnecessary and a form of voter intimidation," said Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo.

Lawmakers are again considering changes to the state's voter ID requirements after laws passed in the 2013 and 2015 were challenged in court. In September, a federal judge ordered the state to provide affidavits to voters who couldn't provide a valid ID.

More than 16,000 affidavits, which people used to swear they were an eligible voter in a particular precinct, were filed in November's election.

There were 5,005 affidavits filed in Cass County alone during the most recent election, according to information provided Thursday by DeAnn Buckhouse, the county's election coordinator. Of those, 2,964 voters returned the postcard that acknowledged they executed an affidavit, but 86 of them listed a Minnesota residential address. A handful of others listed other states as their address, according to Buckhouse, and 1,837 have not been returned or verified.

"If this isn't a problem, I don't know what is," said Rep. Christopher Olson, R-West Fargo.

Under the bill, valid forms of identification would be a driver's license, a non-driver's identification card or a tribal ID, along with other forms for people in "special circumstances." If the ID doesn't include the required information or isn't current, a voter could use supplemental documentation such as a current utility bill, bank statement or government-issued check.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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