February 13, 2020

Midyear 2020: Obstacles to voting remain as 2020 election approaches

In North Dakota, a legal storm is brewing over voting rights – a storm that has already reached the U.S. Supreme Court once and might land there again.

The case is Brakebill v. Jaeger and it poses the question: If a citizen has no street address to call home, can he or she still vote?

Six Native American plaintiffs are suing the North Dakota secretary of state over a state law that requires each voter to present identification at the polls that includes a current residential street address. The plaintiffs claim this is an unconstitutional burden on many Native Americans and other residents who live in remote areas where there are no street addresses.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step into the case – at least not yet. By a 6-2 vote, the court refused to overturn the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had overturned a district court injunction against the voter ID policy. (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented. Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not participate.) The case is currently pending at the district court and may yet return to the Supreme Court.

On Feb. 15 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Austin, four experts – including the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the Brakebill case – will discuss this issue and other current voting rights controversies.

The program, called “The Disenfranchised Among Us,” is sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division. It will be held Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9:45 a.m. at the JW Marriott Hotel, 110 E. 2nd St.

A moderator and three panelists will discuss how poll taxes, criminal records and other limitations may affect voters in the crucial 2020 election, and how such issues have affected elections in the recent past. The program will explore barriers that prevent citizens from voting and the implications of these restrictions on the fundamental right of self-determination.

Panelists also will discuss efforts to restore voting rights to people freed from prison after serving criminal sentences, and the issue in the Brakebill case of citizens who have no street addresses.

The panel will include:

  • Matthew Campbell, staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo., and the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Brakebill case.
  • Benjamin Griffith, a civil litigation lawyer from Oxford, Miss., and co-editor of the new ABA book, “America Votes! Challenges to Modern Election Law and Voting Rights
  • Chad Vickery, vice president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Arlington, Va.
  • Lisa Atkinson (moderator), tribal court judge

For more information on the program or the Judicial Division, contact Kris Berliant at Kris.Berliant@americanbar.org.