By Jueseppi B.
The Justice Department is suing North Carolina over that state’s restrictive new voting law. The lawsuit takes aim at provisions that limit early voting periods and require a government photo ID as an illegal form of discrimination against minorities at the ballot box.
Federal authorities are challenging four parts of the state law, passed soon after the Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act in June. Those provisions include: the state’s decision to cut back on early voting by a week; the elimination of same-day registration during that early voting period; the prohibition on counting certain provisional ballots that are not prepared in a voter’s specific precinct; and the adoption of a strict photo identification requirement without protections for voters who lack that required ID.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the case at a Monday news conference in Washington.
“The Justice Department expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to the participation in the political process on account of race,” he said.
It marks the third time this year that the Justice Department has taken action to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act since the high court voted 5-4 to gut the law’s centerpiece, a system that required states with a history of discrimination to seek pre-approval from the federal government before making any election changes.
Forty counties in North Carolina had been covered under that old system, and the new Justice Department case will ask a court to reimpose an unspecified period of U.S. oversight under Section 3 of the VRA, a process known as “bail in.”
The new U.S. case adds to a growing docket of challenges from groups including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are suing North Carolina under existing parts of the Voting Rights Act. Like the Justice Department lawsuit, those cases argue that the state is imposing discriminatory burdens on poor, elderly and minority voters, and abridging their right to vote.
A study by North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles suggests that the voter ID requirement disproportionately affects black Americans who are already registered to vote. Other data in the state suggests that more than 300,000 registered voters lack a driver’s license or another form of special ID.
At a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in early September, Holder noted that he and President Obama had met with civil rights activists to bemoan the Supreme Court ruling and to find a way forward.
“We will not allow the court’s action to be interpreted as ‘open season’ for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Holder said. “We will not hesitate to take appropriately aggressive action against any jurisdiction that attempts to hinder access to the franchise.”
North Carolina’s law, enacted and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory only weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, drew nationwide attention from civil rights advocates. But McCrory has said the law merely represents “common sense reform” and helps ensure integrity in the voting system. McCrory points out that the law will not take effect until 2016, giving people a lot of time to get state-approved ID.
Voting rights experts already have raised doubts about a Justice Department challenge to the Texas voter ID law filed earlier this summer and those same questions will emerge all over again in the new North Carolina dispute. Now that the decades-old federal pre-approval system is in chaos, the burden rests with the U.S. government and minority voters to demonstrate that the new laws were enacted with a “discriminatory intent” in order to force North Carolina back under federal oversight. That hurdle is much higher in the law than merely showing that the law has a “discriminatory effect” on minorities’ voting strength.
Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, which sued North Carolina last month, tells NPR it’s the “piling on” of regressive voting changes that makes the law so onerous for minorities.
“Each of these changes on their own would already be considerably harmful to the voting rights of North Carolinians,” Hair says. “Taken together, this is the worst voter suppression law in the country. … It is no mere coincidence that it makes voting disproportionately harder for voters of color, young people, seniors and low-income people.”
And past cases suggest that when it comes to voter ID laws, the federal government has a difficult road. A U.S. appeals court upheld the Georgia law in 2009. And a year earlier, a divided Supreme Court led by then-Justice John Paul Stevens said the Indiana voter ID law passed muster so long as a state could offer a nondiscriminatory rationale.
Thank you NPR.
Justice Dept to Sue N.C. Over Voter Law
Published on Sep 30, 2013
Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will sue the state of North Carolina for alleged racial discrimination over tough new voting rules. (Sept. 30)
From Washington Post:
By Reid Wilson
The Justice Department will announce Monday it is suing North Carolina over a law passed earlier this year that would make sweeping changes to the state’s elections laws. North Carolina is the Justice Department’s second target; earlier this year, federal officials filed suit against a new voter identification law in Texas.
Holly Yeager has the details:
Under the new law, North Carolina residents are required to show a photo ID at polling places. The law was signed by the state’s Republican governor last month, and civil right groups moved quickly to challenge it. They said that the law’s requirements will make it harder to vote and that racial minorities will be disproportionately affected because they are less likely to have the forms of photo ID required by the law. In their suit, the Advancement Project and the North Carolina NAACP also argued that voter fraud is not a significant problem in the state.
Justice will challenge four provisions of North Carolina’s voting law, according to the person briefed on the plans. They include the strict voter-ID requirements, which critics say do not provide adequate protection for voters who lack the required ID. The suit will also challenge the elimination of the first seven days of early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early-voting period and the prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct.
The department will also ask that North Carolina again be required to get clearance in advance of any changes to its voting laws.
Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post’s GovBeat blog. He’s a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he’s a complete political junkie. Reid is a Seattle native and a graduate of The George Washington University.
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