At least three Native candidates are running for the state Legislature in North Dakota, which has its mail-in primary Tuesday, the first statewide election since tribes reached a landmark voting rights agreement with the state earlier this year.
The Spirit Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had sued over voter identification requirements that they said disenfranchised Native voters. The settlement ensures tribal IDs and tribe-designated street addresses will be accepted as valid for voting. But this is an unusual year because due to COVID-19, all ballots will be cast by mail.
Wes Davis, who chairs the Native American voter board, told The Bismarck Tribune that issues remain. He said on some of the state’s rural reservations, the nearest post office is 30 to 40 miles away. He said because of the pandemic and subsequent economic issues, many living on reservations are also in “survival mode,” and voting or researching different candidates is not a top priority.
In Tuesday’s primary, all three Native candidates are Democrats: Lisa Finley-Deville, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, is seeking a seat in the state Senate, while Thomasina Mandan, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, and Tracey Wilkie, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, are running for the House.
North Dakota voters made history in 2018 by electing Ruth Buffalo, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, to the state House, making her the first Native Democratic woman to serve in North Dakota’s Legislature. She was the only Native woman seeking a legislative seat in that election.
“This year we tripled that with three Native American women running for state Legislature, all of which are running against incumbents,” Buffalo said.
All three of this year’s candidates are endorsed by the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party, the North Dakota affiliate of the national Democratic Party.
The Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux’s recent agreement with the state will allow Native voters who do not have a residential street address to have their ballots counted. It also ensures that tribal ID cards will be accepted as valid forms of identification.
These protections will be useful to the more than 7,000 eligible voters coming from both tribal nations.
North Dakota has no voter registration. Turnout is calculated by comparing the number of voters to an estimate of the state's voting-age population, or about 582,000 people.
Ballots must be postmarked by Monday to be counted. They are scheduled to be tabulated at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Other states holding primaries Tuesday are Nevada, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at AChavez@IndianCountryToday.com
If you know of any other Native candidates running for office, let us know by contacting Aliyah Chavez, @aliyahjchavez
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Tracey Wilkie's name.