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Senate Passes Bill To Allow Tribal IDs For Voter Registration

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County Clerks in Wyoming could soon be required by state law to accept tribal ID cards for voter registration, provided the ID lists the applicant's driver's license number or last four digits of their social security number.

The legislature's Select Committee on Tribal Relations began drafting a bill to that affect last summer after an investigation found that poll workers in Fremont County were confused about whether or not they could accept tribal IDs to register voters for the 2018 midterm election. The senate passed the final version of that bill unanimously and without debate on Tuesday.

"It was just a little unclear in statute, and so we cleaned that up to where it leaves no question," said Lander Representative Lloyd Larsen, who co-chairs the committee.

Larsen said the change will simplify the voter registration process for tribal members, particularly those who do not have a valid driver's license.

Both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Business Councils expressed support for the bill before it was introduced. However, some tribal leaders would prefer that the legislation go further. Eastern Shoshone Business Councilwoman Karen Snyder said that the default format for Eastern Shoshone Tribal IDs does not include a driver's license number or last four digits of social security.

"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," Snyder said, adding that tribal members will have to update their tribal IDs to include any new information.

"There were some opinions that felt like the bill, initially, was a slap in the face to tribal sovereignty," Snyder said. "I'm not going to be as aggressive as to say that. I'm going to say it's a provisional win for us."

Larsen acknowledged tribal leaders' frustrations, but said accepting tribal IDs without that extra information would put the state in violation of the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

"As we visited with tribal representatives, they would much rather have the ability to just say, 'Here's my tribal ID,' and have that work for voter ID. But it's the federal law that got us tangled up," he said.

Fort Washakie Representative Andi Clifford called the bill an important step in the right direction. She said that when Tribal Relations began work on the bill last year, several committee members and even Wyoming's Secretary of State had never seen a tribal ID before.

"It was the educational piece of that piece of legislation, from the Secretary of State all the way down, to understand our IDs," Clifford said. "My ultimate goal is to improve the fairness and consistency when Indigenous people go and register to vote.

The bill is headed to Governor Mark Gordon's desk for consideration.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.

Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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