Justice Department to sue North Carolina over voting law


Poll workers count and review voter authorization forms at the Covenant Presbyterian Church during the U.S. presidential election in Charlotte on Nov. 6, 2012. (Chris Keane/Reuters)
September 30, 2013

The Justice Department will sue North Carolina on Monday over the state’s new voting law, according to a person briefed on the department’s plans, the latest move by the Obama administration to counter a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that officials have said threatens the voting rights of minorities.

The suit, to be announced at a Washington news conference, follows the department’s decision last month to sue Texas over that state’s new voter-identification measure. And it comes after a recent warning from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that the administration “will not hesitate to take appropriately aggressive action against any jurisdiction that attempts to hinder access to the franchise.”

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.

Gov. Pat McCrory said the law will protect the integrity of the election process. He noted that voters will not be required to present a photo ID until the 2016 elections and insisted that the law was necessary to ensure that “no one’s vote is disenfranchised by a fraudulent ballot.”

The high court’s June ruling invalidated a key section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that had required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to receive approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before they could make such changes to their voting laws. But the Justice Department is expected to rely on another section of the act to bring its suit against North Carolina, just as it did in the Texas case.

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.

In its June ruling in Shelby County v. Holder , the Supreme Court did not strike down the Voting Rights Act but said Congress must come up with a new formula to determine which states should be subject to special scrutiny. The act’s “pre-clearance” had been required in nine states and parts of seven other states.

Within hours of that decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said his state would move forward with its voter-ID law, which had been blocked by a panel of federal judges. Six states directly affected by the Supreme Court ruling have passed laws requiring additional voter identification, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

In a recent speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Holder called the ruling “a deeply flawed decision that effectively invalidated a cornerstone of American civil rights law.”

Holder acknowledged that the decision has had “a significant impact on the Justice Department’s enforcement abilities” but said the administration would not allow it “to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”

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