Justice Department Stumps for Voter Rights in N.C.

     (CN) – North Carolina’s exclusionary and racist new voting laws should be killed before Election Day, the U.S. government says in Federal Court.
     The complaint in Greensboro, N.C., alleges that House Bill 589, signed into law in August 2013, reduces early voting days, eliminates same-day voter registration, prevents counties from counting provisional ballots if the voter casts the ballot in a precinct other than the voter’s home precinct, and requires voters to present photo identification to vote.
     “By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise,” Attorney General Eric Holder said while announcing the filing. “Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation.”
     The department’s 32-page federal complaint parades a bevy of statistics describing North Carolina’s demographics and how such restrictions will curb black voter turnout.
     Changes such as those adopted in North Carolina “will weigh more heavily on African-American voters, who, in previously elections, disproportionately voted during the first week of early voting, disproportionately made use of same-day voter registration, and disproportionately case out-of-precinct provisional ballots, and who disproportionately lack the forms of photo identification required by HB 589,” the complaint states.
     About 71 percent of black voters casted their votes during early voting periods, and HB 589 reduces the period to do so from 17 days down to 10, the Justice Department notes.
     The lawsuit points to the recent failed early day voting restrictions of Florida, which reversed its decision after extraordinarily long lines taxed the limited number of polls on election day in November 2012.
     Statistics also weigh heavily in favor of white voters when it comes to photo identification restrictions, according to the complaint, which says that 3.8 percent of white voters do not have DMV-issued identification as compared with 7.4 percent of black voters.
     Holder said: “The Justice Department expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to participation in the political process on account of race.”
     The DOJ filed its complaint under the Voting Rights Act, though the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder struck a blow to the government’s ability to force state and local governments with histories of voting discrimination to seek federal preclearance to change its voting rules.
     The court ruled, 5-4, that the law’s coverage formula to determine which jurisdictions face preclearance is unconstitutional, rendering the preclearance requirement irrelevant.
     Holder condemned the Supreme Court’s decision in his speech today, calling it “flawed,” stating that the ruling emboldened states to return discriminatory practices back into voting regulations. Holder also mentioned the Department’s two lawsuits against the state of Texas regarding redistricting and the requirement of voter photo identification.
     “These actions prove that – whenever warranted by the facts and the law – the Department will not hesitate to use the tools and legal authorities at our disposal to fight against racial discrimination, to stand against disenfranchisement, and to safeguard the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot,” Holder said.
     North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory defended the bill last month in a YouTube video, stating that “photo ID has become a part of everyday life. You need a photo ID to board an airplane, to cash a check or even to apply for most government benefits.”
     McCrory added that voters without identification can get one free of charge.
     “Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID are using scare tactics,” McCrory said in the video. “They’re more interested in divisive politics than insuring that no one’s vote is disenfranchised by fraudulent ballot.”
     The Justice Department is suing the state of North Carolina, its Board of Elections and the Board’s Executive Director Kim Strach under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
     It wants an order enjoining the state from enforcing HB 589.

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