Port: Lawsuit against North Dakota's voter ID wasn't about winning legal fees

That the tribes and the state are working together to make compliance with that law easier is a good thing, but it's a silver lining to what was, from the start, an obnoxious product of partisan politics that left North Dakotans of all races feeling more divided than before.

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Voters get their ID's scanned to check in right after the early voting opened up at ten am at the Alerus Center. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald
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MINOT, N.D. — It's ironic that the greatest victory that can be claimed by the lawyers who filed suit against North Dakota's voter ID laws is that the state has to pay for their legal fees .

Allow me to give you the backstory.

In 2018 North Dakota was home to one of the highest-profile U.S. Senate races in the country, featuring incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp squaring off against Republican challenger Kevin Cramer .

That election cycle also featured a lawsuit, filed on behalf of members of several Native American tribes, challenging North Dakota's voter ID laws.

Call me cynical, but the suit seemed motivated by a need to get Heitkamp a hook she could use for her campaign.


One of the lawyers involved in the suit was Tim Purdon , a former member of the Democratic National Committee and a staunch supporter of Heitkamp. In its messaging, the former Senator's campaign leaned heavily on the idea that North Dakota's voting laws were motivated not only by animus toward Native American communities but a desire to undermine her re-election campaign.

The whole thing was a canard.

Just before the election, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to enjoin North Dakota from enforcing its voter ID law. Turnout in tribal communities in 2018 set records . Cramer won that election handily, despite Heitkamp spending about four times what Cramer did .

The lawsuit, meanwhile, accomplished little. After the election, the state settled with the tribes, agreeing to work with them to shore up street addresses in rural tribal communities and to do outreach to help tribal members get identification cards.

Those are good things!

But they almost certainly could have been accomplished through some tribal outreach to the state Legislature, as opposed to a lawsuit filed by a partisan Democrat at an opportune time for a Democratic incumbent, and let's not forget that North Dakota's voter ID law stands.

Meaning Purdon didn't accomplish what he set out to accomplish. Though that's not stopping the man -- who once, without a whiff of irony, compared himself favorably to Atticus Finch -- from crowing about the payday on social media along with other left-wing political observers in the state.

As if the point of the lawsuit were winning legal feels:


Purdon, I should note, claims to have worked on this case pro bono and has indicated that the legal fees will go to the Native American Rights Fund.

But that's still just lawyers getting paid, even if it's non-profit lawyers.

The "stupid" and "discriminatory" law that Purdon filed suit over?

It stands.

Again, that the tribes and the state are working together to make compliance with that law easier is a good thing, but it's a silver lining to what was, from the start, an obnoxious product of partisan politics that left North Dakotans, of all races, feeling more divided than before.

There are a lot of people in America today who work very hard to exploit the divides between us. I don't think we should celebrate their achievements.


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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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