BISMARCK-North Dakota lawmakers are again considering changes to the state's voter identification requirements, an issue that has landed the state in federal court over previous laws passed by the Legislature.
House Bill 1369 would help preserve the integrity of the state's elections, House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said in testimony to the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee Friday, Jan. 27.
"By no means does this bill attempt to disenfranchise voters," he said. "This bill only attempts to verify and make that those voters are, in fact, true North Dakota residents and are allowed to vote."
The bill would require qualified electors to provide a driver's license, non-driver's identification card or tribal ID. If the ID doesn't include the required information or is out of date, the voter could present supplemental documents such as a current utility bill, bank statement or a government-issued check.
The bill also includes options for "special circumstances," such as people living in a long-term care facility, a service member stationed away from home and for disabled people who can't travel.
The bill, introduced by Carlson and several other Republican lawmakers, comes after Secretary of State Al Jaeger was hit with a lawsuit that argues the voter ID laws passed by the Legislature in 2013 and 2015 disproportionately burdened Native Americans. Online court filings indicate that case is open, but no hearings are scheduled.
In September, a federal judge ordered the state to provide an affidavit to voters who couldn't provide a valid form of ID. More than 16,000 voter affidavits were filed in the November election, according to the results of a survey of county auditors previously provided to Forum News Service.
But Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said the ballots cast by people who executed an affidavit were counted prior to a post-election verification process conducted by county auditors. There is no way to remove a ballot if it was later discovered that the voter was not qualified, he said.
The new voter ID bill would allow ballots cast by people without a valid form of ID to be set aside in a sealed envelope until they return with identification.
The bill also increases the penalty for offenses such as voting more than once and knowingly voting in the wrong precinct from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony.
The bill drew questions from Democrats on the committee about who had input in the crafting of the legislation and the prevalence of voter fraud in North Dakota. Pressed by Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, on whether fewer than three people have been convicted of voter fraud here, Silrum said it "will be more than three for this election if the state's attorneys will prosecute."
The integrity of the U.S. elections has been a hot-button issue in recent weeks. Despite election officials arguing they had no evidence to support his claims, President Donald Trump called for a "major investigation" into voter fraud.
Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo, asked Carlson whether North Dakota should give up its status as the only state without voter registration. The majority leader responded that it would be a hard sell to people in rural areas.
Kevin Glatt, the Burleigh County auditor, told the committee that House Bill 1369 is a step in the right direction. But he worried that the constant changes in the state's election laws has taken a toll on election workers.
"Every election they have new things to learn," Glatt said. "The hardest part of elections today is finding, training and retaining precinct election workers. And this will add to the duties, responsibilities and will make it more difficult to find election workers."