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Wyoming governor signs bill to make it easier to use tribal IDs for voter registration
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Wyoming governor signs bill to make it easier to use tribal IDs for voter registration

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House of Representatives

Rep. Andi Clifford attends session at the House Chamber in the Capitol on Feb. 11 in Cheyenne. Clifford co-authored a law that makes it easier for Indigenous people to register to vote using tribal IDs.

It is easier for Indigenous people in Wyoming who want to use their tribal identification when registering to vote, now that Gov. Mark Gordon has signed legislation addressing the issue.

The new law makes it clear that tribal IDs can be used as the sole form of identification when registering to vote, as long as a valid driver’s license number or last four digits of a Social Security number are printed on the ID. Previously, a tribal ID could be used if a valid driver’s license accompanied it, or if the license number or last four digits of a Social Security number were presented when registering to vote.

The legislation was supported by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, though leaders have said they wanted it to go further by not requiring a driver’s license number or last four digits of a Social Security number.

“What this bill does is provide clear expectations to the tribes, every county and the state regarding tribal IDs,” said Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fort Washakie.

Clifford, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, sits on the state’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations, which took up the issue last year after concerns surfaced that tribal citizens struggled to use their tribal IDs when registering to vote for the 2018 election.

Although an investigation ultimately found that no election laws were violated and no tribal members were ultimately prevented from voting, some wanted to see the state address the concerns.

Discussions involved the Fremont County Clerk, tribal leaders, lawmakers and Wyoming Secretary of State Edward Buchanan, culminating in the legislation Gordon signed on Thursday.

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The bill’s language was passed by the state’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations before the session in August. The bill was then sponsored by the Corporations Committee for this year’s legislative session.

The “bigger picture” of the legislation, Clifford said, is that it will help educate local and state officials about the vetting process involved in enrolling in a tribe and obtaining a tribal ID. That process, she said, includes submitting a certified birth certificate, Social Security number and verification by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“It’s actually equal if not a more vetted ID than a driver’s license,” Clifford said.

Tribal leaders have said they would like to see tribal IDs viewed as equal to state identification and not have any other requirements tied to their use as a form of voter ID. However, federal election laws don’t currently allow for that.

The change will mean tribal governments will have to issue new IDs with the mandated information or require tribal citizens to get a new ID with the needed information to be used as the only form of ID when registering to vote.

“We kind of met halfway to some degree on this. I would have preferred for the takeaway from this to be, the tribal ID is equal to or better than any state driver’s license,” Eastern Shoshone Business Council co-chair Karen Snyder told Wyoming Public Radio earlier this week. “There were some opinions that felt like the bill, initially, was a slap in the face to tribal sovereignty. ... I’m not going to be as aggressive as to say that. I’m going to say it’s a provisional win for us.”

While the bill may not signal a big shift in policy, it also serves another purpose, said Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander: improving relationships between the state and two Wyoming tribes by showing them that the state is willing to listen to — and address — their concerns.

“In the world of tribal and state relations, it was an important thing,” said Larsen, who co-chairs the state’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations. “It just shows the desire of the state to be receptive and responsive to the needs of the tribes.”

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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