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U.S. alleges discrimination, sues North Carolina over voter laws

September 30, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • In 1982, President Reagan signs an expansion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department is suing North Carolina for alleged racial discrimination over tough new voting rules, the latest effort by the Obama administration to fight back against a Supreme Court decision that struck down the most powerful part of the landmark Voting Rights Act and freed southern states from strict federal oversight of their elections.
In 1982, President Reagan signs an expansion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.… (Associated Press )

The Obama administration is suing North Carolina over the state’s new restrictive voting rules, the latest federal effort to protect minority voters after the Supreme Court recently struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act.

The suit, announced Monday morning, had been expected after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, in August signed the measure that imposes tough voter identification requirements, including photo identification. The Department of Justice in August sued Texas over that state’s voter identification law.

The suit against North Carolina was announced by Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, who has promised “aggressive” action to protect voting rights. In a speech this month, Holder called the Supreme Court ruling against parts of the Voting Rights Act “deeply flawed” and said the Justice Department would “not allow the court’s action to be interpreted as ‘open season’ for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”

The issue of who is allowed to vote has been central to politics and elections for decades in the United States. The Voting Rights Act, first enacted in 1965, is considered landmark civil rights legislation. It was designed to allow blacks to exert voting power in areas such as the South, where they were historically barred from voting by segregation or fraud.

In June, all five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices voted to do away with part of the Voting Rights Act that required North Carolina, Texas and other states with a legacy of discrimination to obtain permission from the federal government or courts before changing their election procedures. All four justices appointed by Democrats dissented.

Since that ruling, Republican-controlled states have imposed new restrictions -- such as voter-identification requirements and scaling back early voting hours -- moves designed to limit access to the polls.

In North Carolina, supporters of the tougher requirements argue that such laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. Opponents contend that the requirements are designed to prevent minority voters, who tend to overwhelmingly support Democrats, from challenging GOP control.

When he signed the bill into law last month, McCrory portrayed the new requirements as common sense measures.

“North Carolinians overwhelmingly support a common sense law that requires voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot,” McCrory said in a prepared statement. “I am proud to sign this legislation into law. Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID, and we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote.”

The North Carolina law requires photo identification such as a driver’s license. But African Americans are less likely than whites to have such licenses, according to the state. Other forms of identification, such as those issued to students or those given to public assistance clients, are not allowed to be used for voting under the law.

The federal government will also challenge three other provisions of the North Carolina law, including the elimination of the first seven days of early voting opportunities, same-day voter registration during the early period and eliminating the use of some provisional ballots.

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