Here We Go: DOJ to Sue North Carolina Over “Discriminatory” Voter I.D. Law

Daniel Doherty

9/30/2013 12:15:00 PM - Daniel Doherty

This is the second time Attorney General Holder’s Justice Department is expected to sue a state government for enacting ostensibly discriminatory voter I.D. laws. The legislation, according to the Charlotte Observer, was signed into law last month by Republican Governor Pat McCrory and “requires voters to show a valid, government-issued ID before casting a ballot” starting in 2016, among other things. ABC News has the details:

The Justice Department is planning to sue the state of North Carolina over its voter ID law, a source briefed on the plans told ABC News.

The move is expected to be announced today and comes in the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision that gutted a portion of the Voting Rights Act. After that decision, North Carolina proceeded with its voter ID law.

It's the second such lawsuit in little over a month.

In August, the Justice Department announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Texas over that state's voter ID law, which required voters to provide certain documents to cast a ballot.

"Today's action marks another step forward in the Justice Department's continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans," Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time. "We will not allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights."

The Supreme Court's decision in June meant states with a history of discrimination were no longer required to indefinitely get Justice Department approval -- or "preclearance" -- before changing their voting laws.

But the high court's ruling left other portions of the Voting Rights Act intact, and the Justice Department is now using those portions "to guard against discrimination and, where appropriate, to ask federal courts to require preclearance of new voting changes," as Holder put it.

Holder, for his part, is filing the lawsuit, in part, because DOJ believes North Carolina's recently ratified law will explicitly disenfranchise African-American voters:

"North Carolina enacted these provisions with a discriminatory purpose to deny African-Americans equal access to voting," and the provisions "will have the result of denying or qabridging [sic] an equal opportunity to vote for African-Americans," the source briefed on the lawsuit said.

The source cited a report by North Carolina's State Board of Elections four months ago, showing that while African-Americans comprise 22 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, African-Americans account for 34 percent of voters who do not have an ID issued by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

The government’s argument that photo I.D. laws are inherently discriminatory seems tenuous at best, although it should be said that only 39 percent of North Carolina voters supported the comprehensive legislation package as it was making its way through the state legislature. Why? I suspect it’s because several of the law’s other provisions, such as ending same-day registration and straight party voting, are less popular with the public. Indeed, a PPP poll conducted recently showed that a whopping 66 percent of North Carolinians support voter I.D. laws; but it appears they are less enthusiastic about the general package. In any case, here’s what the governor himself had to say upon signing the legislation into law, according to his website:

“North Carolinians overwhelmingly support a common sense law that requires voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot. I am proud to sign this legislation into law. 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,” said Governor McCrory. …

“While some will try to make this seem to be controversial, the simple reality is that requiring voters to provide a photo ID when they vote is a common sense idea,” said Governor McCrory. “This new law brings our state in line with a healthy majority of other states throughout the country. This common sense safeguard is common-place.”

Enacting photo I.D. laws at the state level seems like a sensible way to prevent voter fraud. Plus, these kinds of laws are broadly and consistently popular with the public. So it’ll be interesting to see how the DOJ’s apparent overreach (what some might describe as the department's latest infringement on state’s rights) plays out.