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The Supreme Court Just Dealt Another Blow to Voting Rights

The change will hit Democratic candidates the hardest in the 2018 midterms

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 2: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., attends a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "Implementation of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act," on October 2, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., attends a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "Implementation of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act," on October 2, 2018.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is currently battling to retain her Senate seat, but it’s not looking good. She’s long trailed her Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in the polls, and last week, she voted against Brett Kavanaugh knowing full well it could hurt her chances to win in November. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court made it even more difficult for Heitkamp to carry her state next month, which Trump won in 2016 by over 35 percentage points. Though Kavanaugh did not participate in the vote, the nation’s highest court ruled to uphold a decision by the state’s courts that requires a residential street address in order to vote in the state’s elections. The decision is expected to disenfranchise much of the state’s Native American population, which lives largely on tribal land and whose IDs typically feature P.O. boxes.

The complete tally for the vote was not disclosed, but Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan both dissented. “The risk of voter confusion appears severe here because the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the Secretary of State’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion. “Reasonable voters may well assume that the IDs allowing them to vote in the primary election would remain valid in the general election. If the Eighth Circuit’s stay is not vacated, the risk of disfranchisement is large.”

Heitkamp won her Senate seat in 2012 by a slim margin, and with the help of the state’s Native American community, which supported her overwhelmingly. As was pointed out Tuesday by Mother Jones, the state’s Republicans began working to restrict voter rights almost immediately after Heitkamp’s victory. Though the law requiring voters to provide a residential address was challenged by the state’s Native American community, it was upheld last month by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and again on Tuesday by the Supreme Court. This means that many of the Native Americans wishing to reelect Heitkamp next month will have a hard time doing so.

The decision could be a death knell for Heitkamp, whose days in the Senate appeared to be numbered even before she voted against Kavanaugh. Heitkamp said that she had been planning to vote for Kavanaugh, but couldn’t do so in good conscience after witnessing his behavior while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the sexual assault allegations levied against him. Earlier this week, she released an ad explaining her decision.

Cramer appeared on Fox & Friends Wednesday morning to discuss the vote. The show’s hosts couldn’t seem to process Heitkamp’s decision outside of its political implications. Ainsley Earhardt was befuddled as to why she voted against Kavanaugh despite trailing in the polls. “I was surprised because she’s built an entire brand on being the bipartisan senator from North Dakota who reaches across the aisle, who always does what’s right for North Dakota independent of her leadership and votes with President Trump when it’s important for North Dakota. She blew all of that up, all of her millions of dollars of branding, in one vote.”

Cramer then guessed that Heitkamp’s vote may have been a political “Hail Mary.” Again, at no point was the idea entertained that Heitkamp may have been voting on principle rather than what was politically expedient. (To be fair, anything involving principle or empathy would have been an unfamiliar line of thinking for Republicans.)

On Sunday, a day after Heitkamp cast her vote, Cramer argued to the New York Times that, unlike Christine Blasey Ford, women in North Dakota would never position themselves as victims. “They cannot understand this movement toward victimization,” he said, referencing the women in his family. “They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.”

“The world got to see close up how ugly it can be when you go too far,” he added.

Heitkamp responded at a festival later that day. “The better part of my career in public life has been working with victims,” she said, according to the Times. “Did you ask him how many victims during this process he actually sat down with, and survivors he sat down with, and visited with personally? I think it’s wonderful that his wife has never had an experience, and good for her, and it’s wonderful his mom hasn’t. My mom did. And I think it affected my mom her whole life. And it didn’t make her less strong. And I want you to put this in there, it did not make my mom less strong that she was a victim. She got stronger and she made us strong. And to suggest that this movement doesn’t make women strong and stronger is really unfortunate.”

The Times noted that there were tears in Heitkamp’s eyes as she spoke of women gaining strength from the #MeToo movement.

If Heitkamp is unable to win reelection in November, Democrats will need to pick up three seats while losing none (other than Heitkamp’s) in order to gain a majority in the Senate. The most feasible options are in Nevada, where Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) is opposing Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV); Tennessee, where Democrat Phil Bredesen is opposing Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN); Arizona, where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is opposing Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ); and Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is opposing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Democratic incumbents will also have to win close races against Republican challengers in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia.

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