Justice Dept. to sue NC; McCrory defends voter bill - WFLA News Channel 8

Justice Dept. to sue NC; McCrory defends voter bill

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WASHINGTON -

The Justice Department will sue the state of North Carolina for alleged racial discrimination over tough new voting rules.

The challenge is 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.

Attorney General Eric Holder had harsh words for North Carolina in a news conference at noon, saying that North Carolina's new laws were intended to make it harder for blacks in North Carolina to vote.

The lawsuit was filed at U.S. District Court in Greensboro.

Holder said that according to North Carolina's own statistics, about 70 percent of blacks voted early in the 2008 and 2012 general elections.

"We will show they were discriminatory both in intent and in impact," Holder said.

Holder said the new voter identification law in North Carolina is "restrictive." He said the new North Carolina voting laws are "inconsistent with the ideals of the nation."

"This is an intentional step to break a system that was working, and it defies common sense," Holder said.

He also said there was little evidence of voter fraud in the state. WNCN reported in July 25 that there were only 125 cases of alleged voter fraud in the state in 2012.

WNCN report on voter fraud in North Carolina

North Carolina's Republican leaders shot back Monday, with McCrory returning from a trip to the North Carolina Zoo to make a statement.

North Carolina's new law cuts early voting by a week, ends same-day voter registration and includes a stringent photo ID requirement. The measure also eliminated a popular high school civics program that encouraged students to register to vote in advance of their 18th birthdays.

McCrory said he recently saw video of President Barack Obama voting in Chicago and presenting an ID. His office also sent out a news release with the video.

"I believe if showing a voter ID is good enough and fair enough for our own president in Illinois, then it's good enough for the people of North Carolina," McCrory said.

He said he believed the North Carolina law was "in the mainstream" and it was the Justice Department that was on the fringe.

He called the move by the federal government "an overreach and without merit. I think its obviously inflicted by national politics since the Justice Department ignored similar laws in other blue states," he said.

He said the law was not designed to disenfranchise any North Carolina voters.

"Protecting the integrity of every vote is one of the most important duties I have as governor of this great state," he said. "And that's why I signed this common sense legislation into law."

Attorney Karl "Butch" Bowers of Columbia, S.C., an attorney with deep Republican ties, will represent the governor and the Executive Branch in the lawsuit.

North Carolina is among at least five Southern states adopting stricter voter ID and other election laws. The Justice Department on Aug. 22 sued Texas over the state's voter ID law and is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over redistricting laws in Texas that minority groups consider discriminatory.
    
As in those other states, North Carolina Republicans have consistently said that voter ID requirements are needed to combat in-person voter fraud, which they claim is endemic despite any evidence of widespread voting irregularities.

In a joint statement, North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis called Holder's claims "baseless."

"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," the legislative leaders said. "The law was designed to improve consistency, clarity and uniformity at the polls and it brings North Carolina's election system in line with a majority of other states."

Tillis' office said their legal counsel in the matter is Ray Starling. Andrew Tripp is the general counsel to Berger. The Attorney General's Office is led by Roy Cooper, a Democrat who may challenge McCrory in the next election.

In a statement, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope said, "There is reason to be concerned about whether Roy Cooper will fulfill his obligation as Attorney General and faithfully defend the will of North Carolinians or instead support Eric Holder's lawsuit against the state." 

North Carolina's election reform law scales back the period for early voting and imposes stringent voter identification requirements. It is among at least five southern states adopting stricter voter ID and other election laws.

The Justice Department, on Aug. 22, sued Texas over the state's voter ID law and is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over redistricting laws in Texas that minority groups consider to be discriminatory. 

Republican lawmakers in southern states insist the new measures are needed to prevent voter fraud, though such crimes are infrequent. Democrats and civil rights groups argue the tough new laws are intended to make voting more difficult for minorities and students, voting groups that lean toward Democrats, in states with legacies of poll taxes and literacy tests.

The Justice Department challenge also is aimed at a provision eliminating the counting of certain types of provisional ballots by voters who cast ballots in their home counties but do not vote in the correct precincts. 

Finally, the federal government will challenge a provision in the new law that requires voters to present government-issued identification at the polls in order to cast ballots. In North Carolina, a recent state board of elections survey found that hundreds of thousands of registered voters did not have a state-issued ID. Many of those voters are young, black, poor or elderly. 

In remarks Sept. 20 to the Congressional Black Caucus, Holder said the Justice Department will not allow the Supreme Court's action to be interpreted as "open season" for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.

The Justice Department will ask a federal judge to place the four provisions in North Carolina's new law under federal scrutiny for an indeterminate period - a process known as pre-clearance. However, the provision of the Voting Rights Act that the Justice Department is invoking may be a difficult tool for the Obama administration to use.

A handful of jurisdictions have been subjected to pre-clearance, or advance approval, of election changes through the Civil Rights Act provision it is relying on, but a court first must find that a state or local government engaged in intentional discrimination under the Constitution's 14th or 15th amendments, or the jurisdiction has to admit to discrimination. Unlike other parts of the voting law, the discriminatory effect of an action is not enough to trigger court review.

Nowhere is the debate over voting rights is more heated than in Florida, where the chaotic recount in the disputed 2000 presidential race took place. 

Florida election officials are set to resume an effort to remove noncitizens from the state's voting rolls. A purge last year ended in embarrassment after hundreds of American citizens, most of whom were black or Hispanic, were asked to prove their citizenship or risk losing their right to vote.

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