- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2014

The legal challenge to North Carolina’s voter ID law goes before a federal judge Monday, as the fight over whether the law suppresses minority votes flares up in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

Opponents of the law, including Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, contend that the identification requirement and other new voting laws create an obstacle for blacks, Hispanics and women to reach the ballot box. The support of the same voter blocs are crucial to Mrs. Hagan’s strategy to win in November against Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

The lawsuit, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others, seeks an injunction against the law for the 2014 election. A hearing is scheduled Monday before U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder in Winston-Salem.

Mrs. Hagan, meanwhile, will be angling to use the court hearing to vilify Mr. Tillis and rally Democratic voters.

“Kay urged the Department of Justice to investigate the voting law because she is committed to ensuring fair and equal access to the ballot box,” said Hagan campaign spokesman Chris Hayden. “While Kay is focused on eliminating barriers to the ballot box, Thom Tillis has installed new barriers for North Carolinians while making political spending less transparent.”

The lawsuit only fueled the bitter rivalry between Mrs. Hagan and Mr. Tillis, who are locked in a close race that has national implications since the outcome will help determine whether Republicans can capture majority control of the Senate.

The court hearing also provides Mrs. Hagan with the bonus of reminding voters of Mr. Tillis’ leading role in North Carolina’s unpopular legislature. Only 18 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the General Assembly is doing, with 54 percent disapproving, according to a survey last month by Public Policy Polling.

The Republican-run legislature passed the overhaul of election laws last year. The move followed the Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required that states and localities with a history of racial discrimination, including North Carolina, submit changes to voting laws to the Justice Department for approval.

The new rules include a requirement that North Carolina voters show a government-issued photo ID, but that provision does not take effect until 2016. This year, voters will only be asked if they have an ID but they don’t have to answer yes or produce an ID in order to cast a ballot.

Critics say the question is still enough to discourage minorities from voting.

The Tillis campaign called it a “common sense voter ID law which protects the integrity of the ballot box.”

“Kay Hagan literally asked the Obama administration to file a politically-motivated lawsuit against the state of North Carolina to block voter ID, which shows just how fringe and out of touch she is,” said Daniel Keylin, spokesman for the Tillis campaign.

He pointed to polls that show up to 70 percent of North Carolina voters support the photo ID law.

However, other provisions in the new election laws are less popular. It also reduced the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, nixed same-day voter registration during early voting, and eliminated preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds to vote if they turn 18 by the next election day.

The changes, which took effect this year, didn’t result in a decrease in voter turnout in the primary elections.

Compared to the state’s 2010 primary, voter turnout increased in the May 14 election, including a 29.5 percent increase among black voters, according to a study commissioned by conservative, nonpartisan watchdog group Judicial Watch.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who submitted the study in an amicus brief to the court, noted that 37 other states don’t allow same-day registration.

“The recent election in North Carolina shows that the Obama administration is engaged in a race-baiting canard when it suggests that voting integrity measures suppress minority votes,” he said. “It is high time that the Obama administration comes into line with the majority of the American people who want to strengthen rather than weaken ballot box integrity.”

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