The United States Department of Justice will sue the state of North Carolina over the voter identification law that was passed this summer.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced at 12 p.m.Monday, flanked by three U.S. attorneys from North Carolina and the Acting Assistant Attorney General, that the DOJ will challenge the legality of the law under the Voting Rights Act on the basis that it restricts access to voting and participation in the political process based on race. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the legislation, set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, from being enforced.
“In challenging this law, the Justice Department will present evidence of racially discriminatory effect resulting from these changes,” Holder said in a statement. “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 N.C. voting reform law, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Aug. 12, altered voting and registration procedures by eliminating pre-registration for high school students and same-day registration for early voters as well as shortening early voting by seven days and ending provisional ballots. In addition, college IDs are no longer allowed when registering to vote and out-of state IDs must register within 90 days of an election.
Holder implied that the Justice Department will challenge the early voting, provisional ballots and same-day registration provisions, as well as the one stating that the only forms of ID acceptable for registering to vote are government-issued photo-bearing ones, such as North Carolina drivers’ licenses, U.S. passports and Veteran Identification cards.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections and the Board’s Executive Director, Kim Westbrook Strach, will also be defendants in the lawsuit. It will be filed in the Middle District of N.C.
Holder said that evidence used in the case will come from voter data in North Carolina, such as a 2005 finding that failure to count out-of-precinct provisional ballots has especially affected counting African-American voters. He also cited the high African-American turnout rates in N.C. in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and said the General Assembly passed the law knowing the demographic consequences.
"Just months after North Carolina saw the highest overall turnout in sheer numbers in its history—in November 2012—and within days of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act—the state legislature took aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African Americans," Holder said in the statement. "This is an intentional attempt to break a system that was working. It defies common sense."
The North Carolina State Board of Elections reported in April that 318,643 registered voters could not be matched to the Department of Motor Vehicle’s database.
An analysis released in January by the Board of Elections found that 612,955 registered voters may not have either a DMV-issued drivers license or any state-issued ID. Of these, 31 percent are black voters and nearly 57 percent are white. One point five percent are Asian, 1.2 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native and the rest are undeclared, other or mixed races.
In July the United States Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1963 to prohibit voting discrimination. The Court declared it unconstitutional to require certain states—including North Carolina—to undergo federal approval or “preclearance” for any changes to voting procedures. The decision was founded on the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.
The July ruling did not, however, strike down the provision that judges can put states back under federal scrutiny, although Congress must create a new coverage formula for evaluating voting laws and procedures.
“To serve that purpose, Congress—if it is to divide the States—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions,” the ruling reads.
Holder previously spoke out about the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a case that he was the petitioner of. He stated in a Sept. 20 speech that it “invalidated a cornerstone of American civil rights law.”
He added that the DOJ would not permit the ruling to be interpreted as “open season” for states to suppress voting rights.
“Today’s action is about far more than unwarranted voter restrictions," Holder said. "It is about our democracy, and who we are as a nation. It pains me to see the voting rights of my fellow citizens negatively impacted by actions predicated on a rationale that is tenuous at best—and on concerns that we all know are not, in fact, real.”
In August, the Justice Department filed two lawsuits against Texas, which also passed voting reform legislation this year. The first challenges the state’s ability to redraw district maps, which Holder said is racial discrimination, and the second law challenges the state’s requirement of photo identification when registering to vote.