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Editorial: North Dakota governor should veto Voter ID bill

Not one Democrat voted for North Dakota's new Voter ID law.

That's reason enough for Gov. Doug Burgum to veto it.

Understand, it's not the only reason. The courts are likely to block the law, because it fails to address a federal judge's strong objections to North Dakota's previous Voter ID law.

But the partisan passage is disqualifying enough. Voting is a bedrock right that should be above politics, period. As recently as Monday, a federal judge found that Texas passed its Voter ID law to discriminate against minorities; the evidence includes the fact that Democratic amendments were ignored.

How to make sure a Voter ID law protects not only elections' integrity but also voters' rights?

Simple: Seek bipartisan support.

That's Point 1.

Point 2 about House Bill 1369 is how it fails to address U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland's objections, as mentioned above.

The bill Hovland blocked offered a short—a very short—list of acceptable IDs. That's a problem, Hovland said. Because not every resident has such an ID; and moreover, disproportionately high numbers of American Indians lack one.

"(I)t is clear that a safety net is needed for those voters who simply cannot obtain a qualifying voter ID with reasonable effort," Hovland wrote.

HB 1369's tattered net does let voters who show up without a qualifying ID cast provisional ballots. But then it requires those voters to return later with a qualifying ID.

And that's the problem: They still need a qualifying ID, which large numbers of North Dakotans do not have.

As a judge said in blocking Wisconsin's Voter ID law, "the right to vote is personal and is not defeated by the fact that 99 percent of other people can secure the necessary credentials easily."

Possible solutions include expanding the number of acceptable IDs, letting pollworkers vouch for a voter or mounting a campaign to make sure every resident gets a free ID.

But does HB 1369 do any of those things? No, it does not.

Then there's a new issue, one that recognizes a group that the bill especially hammers: students.

Most states with Voter ID rules accept student IDs. HB 1369 does not. That leaves it open to charges of age discrimination, because the bill carves out Voter ID exceptions for military personnel, people with disabilities and people in nursing homes, but not for students.

Meanwhile, the 26th amendment—which lowered the voting age to 18—also declares that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of age."

Pesky language, when the certain effect of a Republican-passed bill will be to hinder voting among a young, Democratic-leaning group.

All these issues could have been addressed, most easily by incorporating Democrats' ideas into the bill. But that didn't happen. Gov. Burgum should veto this transparent effort to sway elections, and demand that lawmakers come back in 2019 with a bipartisan bill.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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