|McCrory signs sweeping elections bill|
|Opponents pledge court challenge|
|Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013 9:47 am|
Gov. Pat McCrory quietly signed into law a measure Monday that makes sweeping changes in how and when the state's voters can cast their ballots, drawing howls from the NAACP and others who promised an immediate legal challenge.
The American Civil Liberties Union joined two other groups in announcing they were filing suit against the reform package, hours after McCrory's office announced he had signed the measure without the fanfare of a ceremony.
Republicans said the legislation is meant to prevent voter fraud, which they claim is rampant and undetected. But nonpartisan voting rights groups joined Democrats and libertarians in suggesting the true goal was to suppress voter turnout, especially among 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 NAACP. "It puts McCrory on the wrong side of history."
Barber called the Republican-backed measure one of the worst attempts in the nation at voting reform and said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was filing a legal challenge. He also charged that the governor was being led by extremists in the Republican Party.
"He has seemingly chosen to kowtow to the extremism rather than stand up and be governor and lead us forward rather than lead us backward," Barber said.
There was no immediate indication Monday afternoon that an NAACP lawsuit actually had been filed.
Barber characterized the measure as an all-out attack on North Carolina's long-standing laws, which he called a model of voter participation. He said an ACLU lawsuit would target the part of the bill related to early voting and same-day registration, as well as a prohibition on out-of-precinct voting.
Absent a formal bill-signing ceremony, no media members were present to witness the signature. McCrory's press office sent out a statement announcing that he signed the legislation and also posted a 95-second message on YouTube giving his reasons for signing the bill, his remarks focused solely on the voter identification section of the bill.
In the video, the first-term governor cited laws that require people to present photo IDs to board airplanes, cash a check or apply for government benefits. McCrory also cited bipartisan support for legislation that requires photo identification to purchase Sudafed at a pharmacy.
"Our right to vote deserves similar protection," McCrory said in the video.
The governor's video message also took aim at opponents of the photo ID requirement.
"Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID are using scare tactics," McCrory said. "They're more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one's vote is disenfranchised by fraudulent ballots."
Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper had written to McCrory urging him to veto the measure.
"This bill was much more than just voter ID," Cooper said in a statement Monday. "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."
Although records show only a handful of documented cases of in-person voter fraud that were prosecuted in the last decade, Republicans compared North Carolina's elections to the tainted races in Chicago in the 1960s.
Democrats, meanwhile, predicted the voting changes will lead to long lines and chaos at the polls, as was the case when early-voting days were cut in Florida
"The law, which reduces early voting and ends same-day registration, will also make it substantially more difficult" for the plaintiffs to engage in get out the vote activities and registration work that "they perform in support of their civic engagement missions," the lawsuit read in part.
"The North Carolina General Assembly and Gov. McCrory have made it much more difficult for North Carolinians to vote and to register to vote. They have done so without good reason. And that's something that should frustrate all North Carolinians," said Chris Brooks, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina. "We are all equal on election day. Bringing into play measures that make it more difficult to vote without exceptionally good reason is something that the government should be doing."
Joining in that lawsuit are the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
The watchdog group Democracy North Carolina also criticized McCrory for signing what it called the "monster elections law."
"To call it a law to promote confidence in elections is ridiculous," said Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall. "It is designed to help certain politicians and wealthy donors, not honest voters."
Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress North Carolina, said the bill would damage the state's election process. "By making it harder for voters to vote, Gov. McCrory is putting the integrity of all future North Carolina elections in jeopardy," Brenner said.
The legislation signed by McCrory and approved by lawmakers last month requires voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls and shortens early voting by a week, from 17 days to 10.
The measure also ends same-day registration, requiring voters to register, update their address or make any other needed changes at least 25 days ahead of the election. A high school civics program that registers tens of thousands of students to vote each year in advance of their 18th birthdays has been eliminated.
The bill also ends straight-ticket voting, which has been in place in the state since 1925.
Disclosure requirements intended to make clear who is underwriting campaign ads are weakened in the measure, and political parties would be enabled to rake in unlimited corporate donations. The cap on individual campaign donations will rise from $4,000 to $5,000.
The House originally passed the bill with the voter ID requirement in April. Senate leaders waited until the waning days of the recently concluded session to take up the issue, adding more than 50 provisions.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July that the U.S. Justice Department will challenge a new voter ID law in Texas and hinted it may pursue similar legal action against other states, including North Carolina.
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 last month to effectively halt the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, enacted to outlaw racial discrimination against voters. North Carolina was among the states, mostly in the South, that were subjected to special federal enforcement, with requirements to get approval in advance before they could make even minor changes to voting laws.
That ruling cleared the way for North Carolina Republicans to become the first in the nation to enact voting law changes without concern for having to obtain prior federal approval.
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