The debate over what IDs tribal members can use to vote could have become another in a long line of polarizing issues in Wyoming.
After all, it centers on a divisive issue in American politics: the debate over voter ID laws. Strengthening such laws have become a popular cause among mostly Conservatives, who complain that our existing elections system is open to abuse. Critics of the laws complain that there is scant evidence of voter fraud, and that adding new regulations makes it more difficult for some people to cast ballots.
As that debate occurred, some citizens of the Wind River Reservation alleged they encountered difficulties registering to vote using their tribal IDs during the last election. An investigation concluded there were no violations of elections law, but instead of dismissing the desire to use a tribal ID to vote, lawmakers began to explore ways to make that an option in Wyoming.
State legislators were hamstrung by federal law, which requires voters to present a driver’s license, provided they have one, at the time they register to vote. But rather than throwing up their hands and saying nothing could be done, the lawmakers on the Select Committee on Tribal Relations continued to work the issue.
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Last week, the committee passed a bill that would allow tribal citizens to use their tribal ID to register to vote as long as voters also provided a valid driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. It’s not exactly what some had been calling for, but given the constraints faced by the committee, it’s a solid start.
The change would recognize the reality that not everyone on the Wind River Reservation has a driver’s license, while also recognizing that Congress isn’t likely to provide a more perfect fix anytime soon.
And it also acknowledges the sovereignty of the two tribes who live on the Wind River Reservation – the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho – by giving greater weight to a tribal ID. Yes, it would be better if tribal members could simply present their tribal IDs alone, but given the reality of Congressional deadlock, this seems like a practical fix.
The bill will next be considered by the committee that handles elections issues in Wyoming. We hope those lawmakers agree to sponsor the legislation because a committee endorsement increases the likelihood that the bill will ultimately become law. And, ultimately, we hope the full Legislature can pass this sensible piece of legislation. Good compromises deserve to be rewarded.