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The Daily Tar Heel

Lawsuit targets voter ID laws

The U.S. Justice Department filed against North Carolina Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against North Carolina on Monday challenging the state’s voting law on the basis of discriminatory intent and joining state lawsuits by the N.C. NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

The department filed the lawsuit Monday, saying that provisions in the law — like shortening the early voting period by a week, eliminating same-day registration, requiring a government-issued photo ID and making it so that ballots cast in the wrong precinct won’t be counted — discriminate against minorities.

“By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a news conference. “Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation.”

According to an April State Board of Elections study, more than 318,000 North Carolinian voters do not hold a valid ID from the N.C. DMV.

Holder said the department will present evidence of the law’s “racially discriminatory effect.” The case also calls for a preclearance regime in the state, which would require that the federal government reviews changes to voting law before implementation.

Intentional discrimination is difficult to prove, but not impossible and the case has plenty of evidence, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy N.C., a left-leaning advocacy organization.

“The facts in the case and the law are very strong in our favor,” Hall said.

But Gov. Pat McCrory criticized the lawsuit in remarks on Monday, saying it was “an overreach and without merit.”

“This is really about North Carolina politics and politicians deciding that North Carolina cannot have the same common sense laws to protect the integrity of the ballot box,” he said.

Advocates of the law said that it is meant to fight voter fraud. But Holder said in the news conference that he didn’t see any proof of fraud.

McCrory said the state has hired an outside law firm to work with the legal counsel from the state attorney general.

N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, condemned the lawsuit in a joint statement.

“The Obama Justice Department’s baseless claims about North Carolina’s election reform law are nothing more than an obvious attempt to quash the will of the voters and hinder a hugely popular voter ID requirement,” it read.

Hall said lawsuits of the N.C. chapter of the ACLU and the N.C. NAACP might be combined with the Department’s lawsuit in a single hearing.

Rob Schofield, policy director at N.C. Policy Watch, said the federal government has also taken legal action in defense of voting rights in Texas and South Carolina.

“Clearly, we are among a growing list of states where the U.S. government has been challenging voter suppression activity.”

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