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Election official monitors Fargo polling site after voters of color complain

Complaints were brought to county election coordinator DeAnn Buckhouse who monitored the West Acres mall polling site from 3:30 p.m. until closing on Thursday, Buckhouse said.

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Sewit Eskinder shows the corner of her North Dakota Real ID on TikTok on Thursday, June 9, 2022.
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FARGO — Reports of voters of color being turned away from a Fargo polling place have prompted the Cass County election coordinator to monitor voting at the site.

Community leaders, including a mayoral candidate, and advocacy group organizers went to the West Acres mall polling station on Wednesday, June 8, after receiving complaints from people of color who said they were asked to prove their citizenship during early voting in the North Dakota primary and local election.

These complaints were brought to county election coordinator DeAnn Buckhouse who monitored the polling site from 3:30 p.m. until closing on Thursday, Buckhouse said. Early voting ended Friday, and Election Day voting is set for Tuesday, June 14.

“I’ve talked to advocacy folks and have been working closely with them to see what the best course of action is to educate our election workers and the voters. Some of the responsibility lies with us and election workers and some goes back to the voters. They should be given a choice,” Buckhouse said.

Voters whose citizenship is in question can choose to fill out a preliminary ballot and then confirm citizenship once proof is presented, or in other cases they can leave and update their address with the North Dakota Department of Transportation and come back, Buckhouse said, adding that her office gets updates about every 48 hours.

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Some voters, however, say the process is discriminatory.

“I got really upset. I took my ID and left. I went to a second polling office and did the same thing and this time I recorded it,” said Sewit Eskinder, a local teacher, who was born in the Twin Cities area and moved to Fargo in 2017.

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Sewit Eskinder talked about her voting experience in Fargo in her TikTok video posted Thursday, June 9, 2022.
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“I am a black woman. I am a U.S. citizen, and more importantly for the context of this video I am a resident of Fargo, North Dakota,” Eskinder said in a video she posted to TikTok.

Eskinder first went to vote at the Fargodome where her Real ID card was rejected, then she went to West Acres where election officials did help her to vote. Eskinder told The Forum her ID is up to date with her current Fargo address.

“There is voter discrimination happening in Fargo, North Dakota to fellow people of color. If you are being asked to show your passport or any other identification, call your local representatives. That is not OK. All you need is an ID that shows your address,” Eskinder said.

North Dakota does not have voter registration. But when voters show up at the polls, state law requires they show identification that includes their name, home address and date of birth, according to Cass County's website.

Wanley Bardell, who carried a Pennsylvania driver's license to the West Acres polling site, became a U.S. citizen in 1992, and he 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 retrieve it, and the process made him late for work, he said. Bardell was ultimately able to vote.

Hukun Dabar talking to Wanley Bardell at left after he attempted to vote on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.jpg
Hukun Dabar, head of the Afro American Development Association, who is running for Fargo mayor, talks with Wanley Bardell, left, after he tried to vote on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at West Acres mall.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

For first-time voter Mohamed Ahmed, an 18-year-old graduate of Davies High School, the voting experience was disappointing. He said he has friends who were turned away after being asked to prove their citizenship.

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“My feeling is that they’re trying to reject new voters and new American voters, and they came at you with a face that is not welcoming. No respect. They are still in their old mindsets,” Ahmed said.

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 scared.

Mohamed Ahmed in front of the West Acres polling station on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.jpg
Mohamed Ahmed in front of the West Acres mall voting center on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in Fargo.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

Hukun Dabar, head of the Afro American Development Association, who is running for Fargo mayor, said he’s 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 smoothly and for everyone who is a citizen to be able to vote,” Dabar said.

Demanding proof of citizenship without presenting all options present a “chilling effect” on new voters, said Amy Jacobson, executive director of Prairie Action , described on its website as a "communications organization promoting progressive values, messages and actions."

Jacobson, who was at West Acres on Wednesday, said election officials should be trained better.

Buckhouse said her office is working to ensure election workers know voters' options. Most problems at the polls come from voters not updating their address information with the North Dakota Department of Transportation, she said.

“We have more than 100 election workers who have received two hours of training and are out there trying to remember everything that they were taught. 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 the advocacy groups and there is always room for improvement,” Buckhouse said.

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“So much of it is education. I think we’re getting closer to the same page, hopefully before now and Tuesday things will go a lot smoother. I will be at the mall most of the day, just to monitor that we’re going in the right direction at that location,” Buckhouse added.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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