Civil rights groups up in arms over sweeping North Carolina voter ID law
By Tom Foreman Jr. , APCHARLOTTE, North Carolina -- North Carolina's governor on Monday quietly signed a measure into law that overhauls the state's election laws to require government-issued photo IDs at the polls and to shorten early voting, moves that drew stinging criticism and threats of legal action from a leading civil rights organization and other groups.
August 14, 2013, 11:13 am TWN
The American Civil Liberties Union joined two other groups in announcing that they were filing a lawsuit against key parts of the package, hours after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement that he had signed it without a ceremony and without journalists present.
Republicans lawmakers who backed the measure said it was meant to prevent voter fraud, which they allege is both rampant and undetected in North Carolina. Independent voting rights groups joined Democrats and libertarians in suggesting the true goal was to suppress voter turnout, especially among traditional Democratic constituencies such as blacks, the young, the elderly and the poor.
“It is a trampling on the blood, sweat and tears of the martyrs — black and white — who fought for voting rights in this country,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a leading civil rights group. “It puts McCrory on the wrong side of history.”
North Carolina is among a number of Republican-controlled states that have passed stricter voter identification laws, redrawn political maps fortifying Republican majorities and reduced early voting under President Barack Obama.
Such states claimed victory after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in June, effectively wiped out part of the landmark Voting Rights Act that required federal “preclearance” of election-law changes in all or parts of 15 mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination. The law was enacted during the 1960s to outlaw racial discrimination against voters.
That high court ruling cleared the way for North Carolina's Republican leadership to enact voting law changes without prior federal approval.
However, the Obama administration has signaled that it plans to take on some states over potentially discriminatory changes. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July that the U.S. Justice Department would challenge a new voter identification law in Texas and previously suggested the department was closely watching developments in North Carolina and in other states.
On Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the North Carolina election law amounted to “the greatest hits of voter suppression.” She addressed the issue of voting rights during a speech at the American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco.
The package would take effect in 2016. It requires voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls and shortens early voting by a week, from 17 days to 10. It also ends same-day registration and a high school civics program that registers tens of thousands of students to vote each year in advance of their 18th birthday.
Critics said disclosure requirements intended to make clear who is underwriting campaign ads also would be weakened, and note political parties would be enabled to take in unlimited corporate donations. The cap on individual campaign donations also would rise from US$4,000 to US$5,000.