Justice Department to sue North Carolina over voting law
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is expected to file a lawsuit Monday seeking to block parts of a new North Carolina voting law that tightens election procedures, including requiring photo identification to cast ballots.
The lawsuit would challenge four parts of the law and ask a court to require North Carolina to obtain pre-approval for certain voting law changes under a part of the Voting Rights Act that remains in effect, according to a person briefed on the legal filing.
The lawsuit is part of Attorney General Eric Holder’s response to a June Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Voting Rights Act requirement for a patchwork of states and local jurisdictions to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal judge before enacting voting law changes.
The source said the sections of the North Carolina law to be challenged are: the requirement of photo ID to cast ballots; the shortening of early voting from 17 days to 10; the elimination of same-day voter registration during early voting; and restrictions on counting some provisional ballots.
The photo ID portion of the North Carolina law was the center of controversy because Democrats said that it didn’t include protections for voters who don’t have identification and that it disproportionately would affect minority voters. Conservatives have pushed such photo ID requirements in many states, saying they would prevent vote fraud. Studies of recent elections have shown in-person vote fraud to be rare.
Some voter photo ID laws have been upheld by the courts. In August, the Justice Department filed similar lawsuits against Texas seeking to block the state’s 2011 election redistricting plan and a new voter photo ID law. The federal government is also seeking to require Texas to seek future pre-approval for voting law changes.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, in signing the voting law changes last month, highlighted the popularity of the photo ID requirement. “While some will try to make this seem to be controversial, the simple reality is that requiring voters to provide a photo ID when they vote is a commonsense idea,” McCrory said.
In a speech earlier this month at a convention of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Holder repeated his criticism of the June high court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, calling it “a deeply flawed decision that effectively invalidated a cornerstone of American civil rights law.”
He said despite the ruling, the Justice Department would find ways to try to accomplish the goals of the section of the law that was struck down. “We will continue to vigorously enforce federal voting laws not affected by the Supreme Court’s decision — including all remaining parts of the Voting Rights Act,” Holder said.
The Supreme Court called the pre-clearance portion of the law unconstitutional in part because of its disparate treatment of the affected states. The ruling left standing other portions of the 1965 law, which was reauthorized by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2006.