North Carolina's Republican governor signed a voter-identification law on Monday in a move that's likely to test the Obama administration's efforts to push back against states after the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Voters in North Carolina will need to present a government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot at the polls. The law also shortens early voting by a week, ends same-day registration and eliminates straight-party voting.
"I am proud to sign this legislation into law," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement. "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."
The law comes as Republicans and Democrats debate which needs more attention — combatting voter fraud or expanding the right to vote.
North Carolina's move puts it on the side of combatting voter fraud, but that stands in contrast to the Obama administration, which has argued in court that voter identification laws have the effect of suppressing the turnout of minority and poor voters.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice already have filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
"This law is a disaster," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens and turn Election Day into mess, shoving more and more voters into even longer lines."
Mr. Ho said Florida eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election and voters ended up standing in line for hours.
"Those burdens fell disproportionately on African-American voters in Florida, and the same thing will happen in North Carolina," he said. "We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."
The fight over voting laws has picked up speed in the wake of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in June that struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — freeing nine states, primarily in the South, from having to undergo extra federal scrutiny before changing their voting laws. Forty counties in North Carolina were subject to that special scrutiny, known as "preclearance."
In its ruling, the court said the 40-year-old formula used to determine whether a state or locality needed preclearance was outdated.
GOP state officials welcomed the ruling, while U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said it was "flawed."
Mr. Holder signaled last month that the Justice Department plans to take action against states that adopt controversial voting laws, announcing that the Obama administration would ask a federal court to require that Texas receive federal approval before it makes changes to its voting law.
Mr. McCrory said Monday that an overwhelming number of North Carolinians support the "commonsense law" he signed because it will help restore faith in the system and reduce voter fraud.
"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 commonsense idea," Mr. McCrory said. "This new law brings our state in line with a healthy majority of other states throughout the country. This commonsense safeguard is commonplace."
Opponents, though, say that the law will suppress voter turnout, particularly among blacks, young voters, the elderly and the poor — groups that tend to support Democrats.
State elections officials say that 319,000 North Carolinians don't have a state driver's license and that 34 percent of those without an ID are black.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, warned in a statement that the bill goes beyond just requiring voter ID.
He said it will prevent people from preregistering so they can vote as soon as they turn 18 and stop people from voting if they show up at the wrong polling place by mistake.
Public Policy Polling has found that North Carolina voters support requiring a photo ID to vote, but that nearly 6 in 10 voters oppose reducing early voting days and nearly 7 in 10 voters oppose eliminating straight-party ticket voting.
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