Justice Department Sues North Carolina Over Voter ID Law
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The federal Justice Department is preparing to sue North Carolina today over that state's restrictive new voting law. The law cuts back on early voting, scraps a program used to register young people and requires voters to use special government IDs that thousands of minorities and elderly people lack. The lawsuit by the Obama administration is part of a broader voter protection campaign that kicked into high gear after the Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in June. NPR's Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is in our studios to talk about the case. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So, what is it the administration objects to here?
JOHNSON: So, North Carolina was the first state to pass a restrictive new voting law after the Supreme Court ruling this summer. And a person briefed on the Justice Department plan says their new legal challenge will focus on four things: first, North Carolina cutting back the period for early voting by a week. Second, eliminating same-day registration for those early voters. Third, a part of the North Carolina law that prohibits counting some provisional ballots that are filed in a voter's home county, but not in their correct precinct.
And finally, Steve, what we've been talking about for weeks now: the requirement that voters in North Carolina have a special government-approved ID. The DOJ case is going to say all these things disproportionately hurt minorities, and they also hurt poor and elderly voters who maybe don't have transportation or driver's licenses. In fact, state DMV data from North Carolina suggests that more than their share of African-American registered voters lack the required ID, and that something like 300,000 North Carolina voters don't have it all together.
INSKEEP: OK. Well, with that said, I can see North Carolina officials saying, look, we can decide when early voting is. And, of course, there is the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court struck down a lot of it. So what would be the legal basis for the Justice Department to get involved here?
JOHNSON: The Supreme Court threw out the centerpiece of that law, the formula for covering states with a history of discrimination. And sometimes like 40 counties in North Carolina were covered under the old system. But the high court left in place another part of that landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that allows the Justice Department or minority voters to sue if there's a record of intentional discrimination. That's the problem, Steve. It's a very, very high bar.
INSKEEP: To prove that something was intentional.
JOHNSON: Yes. And you could, relatively easily, in some cases, show that a law has a discriminatory impact on minorities. But you have to prove that lawmakers enacted this law with a discriminatory purpose. And the record, track record in those kinds of voter ID cases is not good for challengers like the Justice Department or minority voters.
INSKEEP: I'm assuming that when you have talked with North Carolina officials, they have not said, yeah, this was intentional discrimination.
JOHNSON: Well, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, says this represents a common sense measure and that nearly three dozen other states already have voter ID laws on the books. He says the state's already fighting related challenges by the NAACP and the ACLU. And he's confident that they're going to prevail in this case. In any event, Steve, all this stuff is going to take years to work through the court system. You know how litigation drags on and on. And the governor says these changes won't take effect until the 2016 election.
INSKEEP: OK. Carrie, thanks very much.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.