Lawsuits challenge sweeping elections law

Posted August 12, 2013 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2013 5:54 a.m. EDT

— Lawyers for a 92-year-old African-American woman, along with multiple civil rights groups, filed one of two lawsuits Monday that challenge the state's sweeping elections changes just hours after Gov. Pat McCrory signed them into law.

That suit, filed by the state chapter of the NAACP and the Advancement Project, alleges that Rosanell Eaton's constitutional right to vote is threatened by the new law, which requires voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls, starting in 2016.

"North Carolina is the first state since the Supreme Court Voting Rights Act decision to pass a discriminatory voting law," Advancement Project Director Penda Hair said in a statement Monday.

Hair said Eaton was one of the first African Americans to vote in North Carolina and has continued casting ballots for 70 years, but the new law's photo ID requirement would disqualify her from future elections because the name on her birth certificate doesn't match the name on her driver's license.

"With the stroke of his pen, Gov. McCrory has transformed North Carolina from a state with one of the nation’s most progressive voting systems, where we saw some of the highest voter turnout rates of the last two presidential elections, into a state with the most draconian policies we've seen in decades, policies that harken back to the days of Jim Crow," Hair said.

The other lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, tackles provisions of the law that cut a full week from the early voting period, eliminate same-day voter registration and prohibit "out-of-precinct" voting. 

The omnibus law, which passed the General Assembly last month and was signed by McCrory Monday, also makes dozens of other changes to how the state conducts elections, which will start taking effect this fall and continue through 2014 and beyond. Those include banning straight-ticket voting and pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds.

In a YouTube video statement, McCrory said the new law will safeguard the election process. 

"Protecting the integrity of every vote cast is among the most important duties I have as governor," he said. "It's why I signed these common-sense commonplace protections into law."

Opponents, however, have called it a radical voter suppression law.

"What does cutting back the opportunity to vote early in this state have to do with increasing integrity?" said Bob Phillips with Common Cause, a good government group. "I don't understand it, and I think a lot of people don't, and I think it's fair to ask those questions."

Phillips said he is concerned about the law allowing corporations to make unlimited donations to parties, raising the amount of money a donor can give to a politician and making it harder to know who paid for a political ad.

"Other things that have nothing to do with voter ID, nothing to do with voting, have again been repealed," Phillips said. "I think it's harmful to our democracy."