FARGO – Republicans are crying "voter suppression" over a recent online ad paid by North Dakota Democrats warning hunters they could lose hunting licenses in other states if they vote here.
"It’s clearly discouraging hunters from voting," state GOP spokesman Jake Wilkins said Friday, Nov. 2. "That’s my opinion and opinion of the NRA."
The National Rifle Association also complained about the ad Friday.
Wilkins conceded that "there’s a margin of truth" but he said the way the ad offers no explanation or solution shows it's intended to suppress voting.
Democrats, who have more frequently cried "voter suppression" this election cycle because of GOP voter ID laws, argue in an email that their ad is factual, citing state law in, oddly enough, Kentucky. Democratic-NPL spokeswoman Courtney Rice could not be reached for comment.
Checking the laws of several surrounding states, several do say that persons who seek hunting licenses as residents of those states must not be registered to vote in other states. Residents often enjoy much cheaper licenses than non-residents.
The question of whether a resident license is revoked if a person were no longer considered a resident is much less clear. Montana and South Dakota licensing agencies say they would not do that.
The version of the ad on Facebook says: "ATTENTION HUNTERS: If you vote in North Dakota, you may forfeit hunting licenses you have in other states. If you want to keep your out-of-state hunting licenses, you may not want to vote in North Dakota."
The version on the Democratic-NPL website says: "By voting in North Dakota, you could forfeit your hunting licenses. You MUST be a resident of North Dakota to vote here. And if you are a resident of North Dakota, you may lose hunting licenses you have in other states. If you want to keep your out-of-state hunting licenses, you may not want to vote in North Dakota’s 2018 election."
The term "out-of-state hunting licenses" is not used in hunting licensing laws, which fall primarily into two categories: resident and non-resident.
Montana, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming are among states that explicitly say in their residency requirements that a person who votes in another state is not their resident and cannot get a hunting license set aside for residents. Non-residents don’t have to prove anything, such as where they vote.
Montana requires a person to physically live in state for 180 days to establish residency. Among other requirements in state law is this one: "If the person registers to vote, the person registers only in Montana."
South Dakota requires a person to have a permanent home in state for at least 90 consecutive days, among other things. Residency is terminated if a person "registers to vote in another state or foreign country," the state Game, Fish & Parks department says.
The difference in licensing fees could be considerable. In Montana, a general deer license for a resident costs $16 and the functional equivalent for a non-resident costs $625. In South Dakota, a license to hunt deer in several areas costs $40 for a resident and $286 for a non-resident.
Minnesota and North Dakota don’t mention voting in their residency requirement.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says a person must be a legal resident for 60 consecutive days and provide a Minnesota drivers' license or ID card as proof.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department says a person must be a legal resident for six months and must not claim residency in another state.
Given that North Dakota requires voters to have lived here for 30 days, it might be possible for a person to live here part-time and choose to vote here while maintaining full-time residency — and have a resident hunting license — in another state.
State laws aren’t explicit about what happens to the person’s resident license at that point.
In Montana, if a person legitimately bought a resident hunting license and then moved away or is otherwise not qualified as a resident the license is still good until the end of the season, according to Ron Jendro, assistant chief of law enforcement for the state’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks department. The person wouldn’t be able to apply for a new resident license without again qualifying as a resident.
The call center for South Dakota’s Game, Fish & Parks gave the same advice.
As for someone who is legitimately a North Dakota resident with a non-resident license in another state, voting in North Dakota should have no consequence.