Mon September 30, 2013
NC's Voting Changes 'Especially Troubling,' Holder Says In Announcing Lawsuit
The federal government is suing North Carolina over its sweeping new voting law. The Justice Department announced Monday it'll challenge at least four parts of the law that it says will restrict minorities' right to vote.
Republicans in control of the North Carolina legislature passed a law this summer that changes how many days you'll have to vote, what you need to bring to cast a ballot, and even how you can register.
Now the U.S. Justice Department is saying those changes are discriminatory and should be thrown out.
"This new law would shrink rather than expand access to the franchise," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press conference. "And it is especially troubling that the law would significantly narrow the early voting window."
The law cuts early voting by a week. And here's some perspective – in that first week of early voting in the last presidential election, more than 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots, according to the state Board of Elections.
The early voting cuts are one of four changes the lawsuit focuses on. Republicans also got rid of same-day registration, imposed a photo ID requirement, and prohibited ballots accidentally cast at the wrong precinct from being counted.
"They overreached!" said State Senator Malcolm Graham, a Democrat from Charlotte. "A whole series of things other than just the ID has called this bill into question, and that's why the attorney general and the government of the United States has come into North Carolina questioning what we're doing."
Governor Pat McCrory says the Justice Department lawsuit is without merit. He's mainly defended the photo ID requirement, which he says is popular.
Republican State Senator Bob Rucho from Mecklenburg County wouldn't comment on the lawsuit. But he's said previously the changes do not suppress anyone's right to vote.
During a public forum in late August, he pointed out election boards will still have to offer the same number of hours of early voting – they'll just have seven fewer days to work with. He says that will mean more polling sites open longer hours.
"Now if you were out there as I was out there, you waited an hour and a half, two hours in some of the elections, we would expect to see that reduced," he said.
But U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins doesn't buy it. She oversees Charlotte and the western district of North Carolina.
"We contend that North Carolina had a voting process that worked, and the effect of the new law has been to break a process that was working well to begin with," she said.
In the last two presidential elections, for example, Tompkins says African-American voters in the state dramatically increased their participation rates, relying heavily on early voting. More than 70 percent of all African-Americans in North Carolina who cast ballots in those elections cast them early.
The lawsuit aims to do two things: stop the changes from kicking in, and require North Carolina to get the OK from the Justice Department before making any more changes.
That's actually the way it's worked for the state as a whole and 40 of its counties for decades. It's called preclearance, and it's part of the Voting Rights Act. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled part of the act unconstitutional this year, effectively getting rid of preclearance.
"Perhaps had the preclearance requirement not been struck down, this law never would've even been passed," said Congressman Mel Watt, who represents Charlotte. "There would've been a deterrent."
Before the Supreme Court decision, the voting legislation was a roughly 15-page bill that focused on voter ID. Chris Brook of the North Carolina ACLU says after the decision, the North Carolina legislature "went back in and made a 15-page bill into a 47-page bill, featuring provisions that had never been a part of the bill previously," such as cutting early voting and the getting rid of same-day registration.
The North Carolina ACLU, NAACP and other groups have also sued over the law.
The Justice Department filed its suit at the federal court in Greensboro. It's also challenging a voting law in Texas that includes a photo ID requirement.