Turnout among Native American voters in North Dakota appeared to surge Tuesday, a striking display of muscle in the wake of a massive and unprecedented campaign to get Native American voters to the polls.
The effort followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that allowed state voter identification requirements to go into effect for the general election.
Tribes scrambled to issue thousands of free identification cards and nonprofits raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts on the state’s Native American reservations, including transporting people to the polls Tuesday. Actor Mark Ruffalo, the Dave Matthews Band and Billy Ray Cyrus last week joined Native American performers for a star-studded series of events on North Dakota reservations meant to promote voting.
The effort wasn’t enough to re-elect U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, who lost her seat to U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican, despite winning big majorities in the state’s three counties where Native Americans make up a majority of the population.
Sioux County, the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock reservation, which spans North and South Dakota, turned out 1,423 voters for the midterm election according to unofficial results released by the North Dakota secretary of state, a 52.47 percent turnout — the highest since at least 2008, a presidential election and more than double the 694 voters who came out for the 2014 midterm elections.
Two other counties with majority Native American populations also reported booms in voter turnout, unofficial results show.
Benson County, home to much of the Spirit Lake reservation, reported 2,288 ballots cast, a presidential election-level turnout, and Rolette County, home to the Turtle Mountain reservation, reported 5,102, the highest in at least a decade, according to turnout data available through the North Dakota secretary of state’s website and OJ Semans, co-executive director of Four Directions, a South Dakota-based nonprofit that helped direct voter turnout efforts on the reservations.