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Voting bill signed; legal challenges start

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The battle over North Carolina voting laws landed in federal court Monday after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a sweeping new law that one critic said harkens “back to the days of Jim Crow.”

The bill includes one of the nation’s strictest photo ID requirements. It also shortens the period for early voting, ends straight-ticket balloting and eliminates same-day registration.

In an unusual move, McCrory released a brief video statement after he quietly signed the bill in his Capitol office.

“Let me be direct,” he said. “Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID have been using scare tactics. They’re more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one’s vote is disenfranchised by a fraudulent ballot.

“Protecting the integrity of every vote cast is among the most important duties I have as governor.”

But two groups immediately went to court. The NAACP of North Carolina and a coalition that includes Common Cause and the League of Women Voters each filed federal lawsuits.

“It is the single most discriminatory and oppressive voting law that I’ve seen anywhere in the country,” said Penda Hair, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights group that filed suit on behalf of the NAACP.

State NAACP President William Barber called the new law “extreme and immoral.”

“We believe that the governor is choosing to be on the wrong side of history,” he said, “to trample through the blood of martyrs and desecrate the graves of our … heroes who fought to push this nation forward in terms of voting rights.”

Barber invoked the memory of Julius Chambers, the Charlotte civil rights attorney buried last week.

“For the governor to sign this horrific bill less than a week after Julius Chambers was laid to rest is dishonorable,” Barber said.

Feds may oppose

The law could become a test for the Obama administration. It’s one of the nation’s first new voting laws since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act in June.

The court effectively struck down a key part of the 1965 law. Though it left intact Section 5, which gives the Justice Department special oversight over voting laws in some states, it nullified the formula on which that oversight is based.

Even before it was signed, the new North Carolina legislation came up at a White House meeting that brought civil rights leaders together with President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder has pledged to block new state laws his department sees as discriminatory.

In their suit, the NAACP argues that the law violates the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“With the stroke of his pen,” Hair said, “Gov. McCrory has transformed North Carolina from a state with one of the nation’s most progressive voting systems … into a state with the most draconian policies we’ve seen in decades, policies that harken back to the days of Jim Crow.”

The bill signing also came a week before “Moral Monday” comes to Charlotte. The protests began last spring in Raleigh in response to the General Assembly’s actions. Organizers say the voting law could drive up attendance at their Aug. 19 protest at Marshall Park.

“It’s only going to help us inspire and motivate more people to come,” said Charlotte NAACP President Kojo Nantambu.

In his video statement, McCrory only spoke about the law’s voter ID provision. He did not mention other changes. Among other things, the bill:

• Limits disclosure of outside campaign spending.

• Raises contribution limits from $4,000 to $5,000 and, for the first time, indexes them to inflation.

• Ends public financing of judicial races.

• Repeals the “stand by your ad” law that forces candidates or parties to identify themselves on the air as sponsors of an ad.

• Ends preregistration for teens. Supporters said even though teens couldn’t vote until they turn 18, early registration made them more likely to vote when eligible.

“This bill was much more than just voter ID,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement. “There were dozens of reasons to veto this bad elections bill with its restrictions on voting, more corporate campaign money and reduced public disclosure being just a few.”

Law has its defenders

In a news release, McCrory’s office addressed some of those provisions.

It said the new law “aligns North Carolina with the majority of states” that do not allow same-day registration, something North Carolina has allowed since 2007. It also said the law would “remove the bureaucratic burden of having to recertify the address and other identifying information for underage voters” by ending preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds.

The Common Cause lawsuit argues, among other things, that the law will result in longer lines at polling stations and hardships for voters because of the shortened period for early voting.

Despite his opposition, Cooper could find his office defending the law in court. One of the bill’s main sponsors, GOP Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, said he’s confident the state will prevail.

“To say that we’re extreme is nothing more than liberal rhetoric, inflammatory rhetoric,” Rucho said. “As we did in redistricting, we will withstand any legal challenges.”

Morrill: 704-458-5059
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