North Carolina Sued By Government Over Discriminatory Voter ID Laws

On the heels of a similar lawsuit in Texas, the Justice Department is preparing to sue the state of North Carolina Monday over its tough new voter ID rules, arguing that the new requirements are discriminatory and illegal. The lawsuit — which is expected to be announced by Attorney General Eric Holder at a news conference Monday — takes aim at several provisions, including the elimination of same-day voter registration (which allows voters to present officials with proof of name and address and cast a ballot immediately after) and the decision to reduce early voting by a week.

The lawsuit will also challenge a new law which requires North Carolina residents to present government-issued photo ID when voting. The law, which passed the House in July, quickly angered civil rights groups, who argued that minorities are much less likely to have the exact type of ID required. (A state study showed that over 300,000 registered voters lack driver's licenses or other forms of state-issued ID, and most of them are elderly or low-income minorities.) Another study by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles has suggested that the ID requirement impacts African Americans far more than other state residents who are also registered to vote.

But North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has maintained that the law is simply a basic requirement that will reduce voter fraud.

“North Carolinians overwhelmingly support a common-sense law that requires voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot,” said McCrory, soon after signing the legislation. “Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID, and we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote.”

North Carolina isn't the only state to have adopted much stricter voting laws following the Supreme Court's decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, which removed the requirement wherein certain states had to gain approval from the federal government before making election changes. At least five other Southern states have followed suit. And the Justice Department has been quick to fight back — on August 22, it sued Texas over the state's voter ID law.

"We will not allow the Court's action to be interpreted as 'open season' for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights," Holder recently warned. "We will not hesitate to take appropriately aggressive action against any jurisdiction that attempts to hinder access to the franchise."

The Supreme Court ruling did leave some parts of the Voting Rights Act intact: the first, a provision that bans discriminatory voting rules anywhere; the second, a provision that allows the court to put the state under federal scrutiny for an indeterminate period (otherwise known as as "pre-clearance"). But the lawsuits are tricky. Without the federal pre-approval system, it's on the U.S. government to show that the new laws were intentionally discriminatory.