Justice files suit against North Carolina over voting law

September 30, 2013

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Monday that the Justice Department would sue North Carolina over its controversial new voting law, saying electoral measures approved by the state would discriminate against minorities and “break a system that was working.”

At a news conference, Holder alleged that the electoral law in North Carolina, as well as similar measures that the Justice Department is challenging in Texas, represent a broad threat to the democratic process. In North Carolina, he said, the law would “shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise.”

“Today’s action is about far more than unwarranted voter restrictions. It is about our democracy, and who we are as a nation,” Holder said. “I stand here to announce this lawsuit more in sorrow than in anger. It pains me to see the voting rights of my fellow citizens negatively impacted by actions predicated on a rationale that is tenuous at best — and on concerns that we all know are not, in fact, real.”

North Carolina officials have vigorously rejected such criticism, arguing instead that the new law will protect the integrity of the electoral process. Among other measures, the law will require North Carolina residents to show a photo ID at polling places. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has noted that voters will not be required to present their 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 Justice Department will challenge four provisions of North Carolina’s voting law. In addition to challenging the voter-ID requirements, the suit will contest 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 Obama administration’s decision to sue North Carolina follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. That ruling invalidated a key section of the law 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.

The department is expected to rely on another section of the act to bring its suit against North Carolina, just as it did in the case of Texas. It will also ask that North Carolina again be required to get clearance in advance of any changes to its voting laws.

At the news conference Monday, Holder said the Justice Department will present evidence — based on North Carolina’s data — that shows the new law will discriminate against minorities. He cited an “explicit finding” by the state legislature that “the failure to count out-of-precinct provisional ballots disproportionately affected African American voters.”

“This is an intentional attempt to break a system that was working,” Holder said. “It defies common sense.”

McCrory, the governor, is expected to address the lawsuit during a news conference Monday afternoon.

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