Pioneer Editorial: Recognizing tribal IDs a positive step
While Congress for some unknown reason remains stalled on reauthorizing the Civil Rights Act, the state of Minnesota has moved ahead in assuring another level of civil rights to a segment of its population in guaranteeing access to the polls on Election Day.
One of the many provisions of state law, enacted by the 2006 Legislature, which took effect Saturday is one which will make it easier for American Indians to use tribal identification cards to register for voting on Election Day.
Minnesota has long led the nation in voter participation in elections, and part of that can be credited by a state policy that allows registration on Election Day but with strict guidelines and procedures to stymie voter fraud. To date, the process hasn't seen abuse or fraud, much to the credit of elections officials from the Secretary of State's Office down to precinct election judges.
But the new law will help ease Election Day problems among American Indians by allowing their official, tribally issued ID to register. Previously, such ID was allowed only for Indians living on the reservation, but the new law -- prompted by court action in 2004 -- will allow tribal members living off the reservation to vote in their precinct with the tribal ID, with proper proof of an address in the precinct. If it's not on the tribal ID, then the voter must show a valid document, such as a utility bill, with that address.
Part of an omnibus elections bill in the House carried by Rep. Torrey Westrum, R-Elbow Lake, a Bemidji State University graduate, the tribal ID provision was pushed by Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids.
Sailer went a step further, and was successful, in gaining approval of her bill -- cosponsored by Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji and carried in the Senate by Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook -- to have tribal identification cards considered the equivalent of a Minnesota identification card wherever it is used to verify identity. The act not only directs the state to treat a tribal ID as a primary document in obtaining a driver's license, permit or Minnesota ID card, it also paves the way to use a tribal ID as proper identification to cash checks or any other transaction where positive identification is needed.
There are protections, however, as the tribal identification card must issued by a federally recognized Minnesota tribe, contain the legal name, signature and picture of the individual, and must also contain security features that make it resistant to photocopying, alteration and tampering.
In recognizing the government-to-government relationship that exists between the tribes in Minnesota and the state of Minnesota, recognizing the tribe's official documentation of the members it sanctions seems logical. It also extends rights that we all share to all of us -- and that's what we celebrated Tuesday.