FARGO — Reports from Voters of Color being turned away from a polling place in Fargo prompted the Cass County election coordinator to monitor voting at the site.
Community leaders, including a mayoral candidate, and organizers from advocacy groups turned up at the West Acres Mall polling station on Wednesday, June 8, after receiving complaints from people of color who said they had been asked to prove their citizenship in early voting in the North Dakota primary. and local election.
Those complaints were taken to County Elections Coordinator DeAnn Buckhouse, who monitored the voting site from 3:30 p.m. until closing Thursday, Buckhouse said. Early voting ended on Friday and Election Day voting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14.
“I have spoken to advocacy people and worked closely with them to see what is the best course of action to educate our election workers and voters. Part of the responsibility lies with us and the election workers and part of it lies with the voters. They should have a choice,” Buckhouse said.
Voters whose citizenship is in question can choose to complete a preliminary ballot and then confirm citizenship once proof is presented, or in other cases, they can leave and update their address with the Department of Transportation from North Dakota and back, Buckhouse said, adding that his office receives updates about every 48 hours.
Some voters, however, say the process is discriminatory.
“I got really pissed off. I took my ID and left. I went to a second polling station and did the same and this time I registered it,” said Sewit Eskinder, a local teacher, born in the Twin Cities area and moved to Fargo in 2017.
“I am a black woman. I am an American citizen, and more importantly for the context of this video, I reside in Fargo, North Dakota,” Eskinder said in a video she posted on TikTok.
Eskinder first went to vote at the Fargodome where her actual ID was rejected, then drove to West Acres where election officials helped her vote. Eskinder told the Forum that his ID card was up to date with his current Fargo address.
“There is electoral discrimination in Fargo, North Dakota against other people of color. If you are asked to show your passport or other identification, call your local representatives. It’s not OK. All you need is ID showing your address,” Eskinder said.
North Dakota has no voter registration. But when voters show up at the polls, state law requires them to show identification that includes their name, home address and date of birth, according to the Cass County website.
Wanley Bardell, who carried a Pennsylvania driver’s license at the West Acres polling station, became a US citizen in 1992 and moved to Fargo in August last year, he said. He was asked to prove his citizenship by showing a passport, so he had to go home to collect it, and the process made him late for work, he said. Bardell was finally able to vote.
For first-time voter Mohamed Ahmed, an 18-year-old Davies High School graduate, the voting experience was disappointing. He said he has friends who were turned away after being asked to prove their citizenship.
“My feeling is that they are trying to reject new voters and new American voters, and they came to you with a face that is not welcoming. No respect. They are still in their old mindsets,” said Ahmad.
Now he’s volunteering to drive new Americans to and from the West Acres voting center, trying to help them through the process and telling them not to be afraid.
Hukun Dabar, head of the Afro American Development Association, who is running for mayor of Fargo, said he heard of many cases of people being asked to prove their citizenship Wednesday at the West Acres voting center.
“We just want the process to go very well and all citizens to be able to vote,” Dabar said.
Requiring proof of citizenship without presenting all options has a “chilling effect” on new voters, said Amy Jacobson, executive director of Prairie Action, described on its website as a “communications organization promoting values, messages and progressive actions”.
Jacobson, who was in West Acres on Wednesday, said election officials should be better trained.
Buckhouse said his office works to ensure election workers know voters’ options. Most problems at the polls stem from voters not updating their address information with the North Dakota Department of Transportation, she said.
“We have over 100 election workers who have received two hours of training and are trying to remember everything they learned. I don’t know if it will ever be a perfect system, but we’re always looking for suggestions, and that’s why I go to advocacy groups and there’s always room for improvement,” Buckhouse said.
“A lot of it is about education. I think we’re getting closer to the same page, hopefully before now and Tuesday things will be a lot better. I’ll be at the mall most of the day, just to verify that we are heading in the right direction at this location,” Buckhouse added.