Obama Administration Targets North Carolina Voting Law

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama Administration is filing suit against North Carolina over recent changes to the state's voting laws

  • Share
  • Read Later
Manuel Balce Ceneta / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Attorney General Eric Holder.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced at a press conference on Monday that the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit against North Carolina over the state’s new, controversial voting law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, saying parts of the  law discriminate under the basis of race.

A little over a month after Governor Pat McCrory signed the election reform bill that requires all voters to present a photo ID in 2016, cuts the early voting period by 7 days, eliminates same-day registration during early voting and curbs many other voting provisions beginning in 2014, North Carolina has become the second state to face the brunt of the Obama Administration in regard to voting law changes since the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in late June.

(MORE: States Eye Voting Obstacles in Wake of High Court Ruling)

In August, Holder announced the DOJ was suing Texas, one of 15 states previously required to gain permission from the federal government when making changes to voting laws due to a discriminatory past, for putting a voter identification mandate into law that the Department had previously found discriminated against minority voters. Two complaints were filed against redistricting maps and the state’s voter ID law.

Now, the DOJ is turning its attention to the Tar Heel state. During the press conference, Holder was joined by US Attorneys from three districts in North Carolina who said they stand in support of the Obama Administration’s recent maneuver.

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

Though North Carolina as a whole was not covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required states to get permission from the federal government before enacting new voting laws, 40 of the state’s 100 counties were subjected to “preclearance.”

(MORE: North Carolina Reverts to Red)

In the lawsuit filed Monday, the Department asks that North Carolina, under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, “bail-in” to a new preclearance requirement that covers the entire state. The suit also challenges several specific portions of the law including  the shortened early voting period, which Holder says about 71% of African American voters utilized during the 2012 election. The suit also threatens a section of the law that eradicates voters ability to cast a provisional ballot when they can’t reach their normal polling place during an election. In regards to the  state’s voter ID mandate , the Department says that not enough leeway has been given to those who do not have the required forms of ID.

“The Jusice Department is not saying we should never have a requirement of some from of identification,” Holder said during a press conference Monday.  “The question is what kind of identification and what is the impact that it has on voters. This law, we think, will have a disproportionate negative impact on minority voters.”

The Justice Department notes that all of the components being challenges disproportionately affect minority citizens, and the state’s legislature knew of this affect but moved ahead with passing the law anyway.

“The right to vote is one of the sacred rights that we hold dear as a nation,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each citizen can cast a ballot free from discrimination.  North Carolina adopted these changes in a rushed process, despite evidence before the legislators that a number of these changes will harm minority voters.”

Holder’s lawsuit is one of many that have been filed since the North Carolina law went into effect. The NAACP, the Advancement Project, and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina all swiftly moved to file suit against the state in the days that followed the governor’s signing.

(MORE: Lawsuits take aim at North Carolina Voting Law)

A little over 300,000 registered voters in North Carolina do not have photo identification cards, according to an April analysis by the North Carolina Board of Elections, and about half of those people voted in the 2012 general election. A large number of those without IDs are African American, feeding the suggestion that these laws disproportionately target Democratic leaning voters.

Proponents of the law argue those without IDs are less likely to vote anyway, and these laws will protect against voter fraud. In fact,  the majority of North Carolinians favor the voter ID provision, according to a Pubic Policy Polling report.

The other components of the bill, however, have been largely unpopular, including the changes to early voting the Obama Administration challenges in the new suit. In 2012, about 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early election period, representing about half of the total electorate according to the ACLU of North Carolina. Holder says the Department will continue challenging voter laws being enacted in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

“Today’s action is not the first,” Holder said during the press conference. “And I’m afraid that it will not be the last.”