North Carolina voter ID law faces legal challenge

Civil rights groups say law will weaken ability of minorities and youths to vote; governor says it will stop fraud

Voters fill out ballots at the Manley Reece VFW Hall in 2008 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a measure Monday requiring government-issued photo identification at the polls and curtailing early voting, moves that drew threats of legal action from civil rights groups and accusations that it amounted to an "atrocious voter suppression bill."

North Carolina’s new law, which takes effect in 2016, also shortens early voting from 17 days to 10, ends same-day registration and requires voters to register and update their address and make other changes at least 25 days ahead of an election.

A high school civics program that registers tens of thousands of students in advance of their 18th birthdays is also scrapped.

North Carolina had been among the 15 mostly Southern states required to obtain approval for changes in voting laws under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But in June, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote eliminated federal "preclearance" rules.  

Before the ruling, North Carolina would have needed to obtain approval before changing its voting laws.  

McCrory’s action Monday drew stinging criticism and threats of legal action from the NAACP and other groups.

"It is a trampling on the blood, sweat and tears of the martyrs -- black and white -- who fought for voting rights in this country," said Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, which is pressing its own legal challenge. "It puts McCrory on the wrong side of history."

At a news conference on Tuesday morning, Barber said the measure was an "atrocious voter suppression bill" and called it "a direct attempt to suppress the civil rights of black people in North Carolina."  

The American Civil Liberties Union announced that it was filing a lawsuit against key parts of the law.  

The lawsuit came hours after Gov. McCrory, a Republican, said in a statement that he had signed the measure, without a ceremony and without journalists present.

McCrory, who announced the signing in a statement, underlined his reasons for signing the law in a 95-second message on YouTube.

He cited laws that require people to present photo IDs to board airplanes, cash a check or apply for government benefits.

"Our right to vote deserves similar protection," McCrory said in the video.

"Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID are using scare tactics," said McCrory. "They're more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one's vote is disenfranchised by fraudulent ballots."

Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was meant to prevent voter fraud, which they allege is both rampant and undetected in North Carolina. The state Board of Elections has reported that in 2012, there were 121 cases of alleged fraud referred to prosecutors out of more than 6.9 ballots cast.

Independent voting rights groups joined Democrats and libertarians in suggesting the true goal was to suppress voter turnout, especially among traditional Democratic constituencies such as blacks, the young, the elderly, and the poor.

North Carolina is among a number of states with GOP strongholds that have passed stricter voter identification laws, redrawn political maps fortifying Republican majorities and reduced early voting.

But the Obama administration has signaled that it plans to take on some states over potentially discriminatory changes.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July that the U.S. Justice Department would challenge a new voter identification law in Texas and previously suggested the department was closely watching developments in North Carolina and in other states.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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