WASHINGTON — The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Monday in federal court in North Carolina, arguing that several changes to North Carolina's election law illegally make it harder for black residents in the state to vote.
"Against a backdrop of the State's history of voting discrimination against African Americans and a dramatic increase in the State's African-American voter turnout rates during the November general elections in 2008 and 2012, North Carolina enacted [election law changes] with knowledge of the disproportionate effect that numerous provisions, both singly and together, would have on the equal political participation of minority voters," the lawsuit announced by Attorney General Eric Holder claims.
North Carolina passed several changes to its election law in the wake of this June's Supreme Court ruling that ended the prior requirement that North Carolina and other officials in certain areas in the country get "preclearance" from the Justice Department before making changes to its election laws.
"The North Carolina law includes troubling new restrictions, such as provisions that will significantly reduce early voting days; eliminate same-day registration during early voting; impose a restrictive photo identification requirement for in-person voting; and prohibit the counting of otherwise legitimate provisional ballots that are mistakenly cast in the right county, but in the wrong precinct," Holder said in prepared remarks announcing the lawsuit.
"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," he said.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said the lawsuit was "without merit," according to The Washington Post's Aaron Blake. "I think it's obviously influenced by national politics," the governor added.
Although the "preclearance" provision in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced unless Congress passes legislation that would create a new formula for determining what areas are covered by the provision, the Justice Department on Monday utilized Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows for litigation after voting law changes are made, in challenging the changes to North Carolina law.
"The history of official racial discrimination against African-American citizens in North Carolina with regard to voting is longstanding and well-documented," the lawsuit states, noting the history of the Justice Department's intervention in proposed changes to North Carolina election law under the Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The complaint goes on to explain that the law passed this summer "alters existing law by reducing the number of early voting days available to voters, eliminating same-day voter registration during the early voting period, and prohibiting the counting of provisional ballots cast by voters who attempt to vote in their county, but outside their home precinct." It "also imposes a new photo identification requirement for in-person voters," the lawsuit asserts.
"Several provisions of [the law], both individually and collectively, will have the result of denying or abridging the right of African Americans to participate equally in the political process," the lawsuit claims.