Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 30, 2013. The Justice Department announced today that it intends to file a lawsuit against the State of North Carolina, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and the Executive Director for the State Board of Elections over recent voting changes made by North Carolina House Bill 589, which was signed into law in August 2013. The United States’ complaint challenges provisions of House Bill 589 under the non-discrimination requirements of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
“By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation. Whenever warranted by the facts and the law, the department will not hesitate to use the tools and legal authorities at our disposal to fight against racial discrimination, to stand against disenfranchisement, and to safeguard the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot.”
The United States’ complaint contends that at least four provisions of House Bill 589 were adopted with the purpose, and will have the result, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. The complaint asks the court to prohibit North Carolina from enforcing these requirements, and also requests that the court order bail-in relief under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act. If granted, this would subject North Carolina to a new preclearance requirement.
House Bill 589 imposes a number of restrictions on voting that will deny or abridge the right of minority voters to participate in the political process. Over the years, voter participation rates in North Carolina have steadily increased as the state adopted election practices and procedures that made voting more accessible to more voters. In the November 2008 and November 2012 general elections, for example, African-American voters dramatically increased their participation rates and heavily relied on early voting in North Carolina. In the November 2008 and November 2012 general elections, about 71 percent of all African Americans who cast ballots in North Carolina during those elections voted during the early voting period.
Although the prior system encouraged expanded voter participation, the state legislature chose in 2013 to adopt numerous barriers to voting and to eliminate voter-friendly practices. Additionally, the state waited to adopt many of these changes until after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which held that certain jurisdictions, including 40 counties in North Carolina, were no longer required to obtain preclearance of voting changes prior to their implementation.
The complaint cites several provisions of House Bill 589. In particular, it cites: the elimination of the first week of early voting, which reduces the total number of days of early voting (from 17 days to 10 days); the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early voting period; the prohibition on counting certain provisional ballots; and the failure to provide adequate safeguards for voters who lack the limited types of acceptable photo identification cards that will be required in future elections. The first three changes are scheduled to take effect in 2014, and the last change will take effect in 2016.
Based on the state’s own data, all four changes will have a discriminatory impact on minority voters, who disproportionately have relied on the first seven days of early voting, the same-day registration process and past practices regarding the counting of certain provisional ballots in order to participate in the elections process. In addition, the State Board of Elections released a report earlier this year showing that African-Americans disproportionately lacked photo identification cards issued by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Despite knowledge of this report, the legislature adopted a strict photo identification requirement that lacks the types of protections for voters without identification that are common in other states that require voter identification. Minority voters will disproportionately face obstacles and barriers to obtaining certain permitted photo identification cards that are now required to vote, and the State has failed to provide adequate protections to ensure that these voters will not be disenfranchised by the new law.
“The right to vote is one of the sacred rights that we hold dear as a nation,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each citizen can cast a ballot free from discrimination. North Carolina adopted these changes in a rushed process, despite evidence before the legislators that a number of these changes will harm minority voters.”
“The United States Attorneys for all three districts in North Carolina support today’s action to protect the rights of all eligible North Carolinians to exercise the right to vote free from discrimination,” said United States Attorney Ripley Rand of the Middle District of North Carolina. “Anne Tompkins of the Western District, Thomas Walker of the Eastern District and I will ensure that our respective offices provide whatever support and assistance is needed to pursue this important voting rights case.”
If the federal court in this case finds that the State of North Carolina should be covered by Section 3(c), then the state would be required to submit voting changes to the U.S. Attorney General or to the federal court for review prior to implementation, to ensure that the changes do not have a discriminatory effect or a discriminatory purpose.
More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot. Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder on the Lawsuit Against the State of North Carolina
Good afternoon. I am joined by Acting Assistant Attorney General [Jocelyn] Samuels, along with our three United States Attorneys from North Carolina – Anne Tompkins, Thomas Walker, and Ripley Rand. We are here to announce that the Justice Department will file suit today against the State of North Carolina to challenge portions of the State’s highly restrictive new voting law.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections and the Board’s Executive Director are also defendants in our suit, which will be filed in the Middle District of North Carolina.
The North Carolina law includes troubling new restrictions, such as provisions that will significantly reduce early voting days; eliminate same-day registration during early voting; impose a restrictive photo identification requirement for in-person voting; and prohibit the counting of otherwise legitimate provisional ballots that are mistakenly cast in the right county, but in the wrong precinct. The Justice Department expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to participation in the political process on account of race.
By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise. And it is especially troubling that the law would significantly narrow the early voting window that enabled hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, including a disproportionally large numbers of minority voters, to cast ballots during the last election cycle. Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation. And it would not be in keeping with the proud tradition of democracy that North Carolinians have built in recent years.
During the last few elections, the state’s own data shows that North Carolina’s voter turnout rates improved significantly and were well above national averages. In the 2008 and 2012 general elections, African-American voters dramatically increased their participation rates across the state – and more than 70 percent of African Americans who voted in those elections cast ballots during the early voting period. Just months after North Carolina saw the highest overall turnout in sheer numbers in its history – in November 2012 – and within days of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act – the state legislature took aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African Americans. This is an intentional attempt to break a system that was working. It defies common sense.
In challenging this law, the Justice Department will present evidence of racially discriminatory effect resulting from these changes – based on the state’s own data. The evidence will also show that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted this legislation despite having evidence before it that these changes would make it harder for many minority voters to participate in the electoral process. For instance, in 2005, the state legislature made an explicit finding that the failure to count out-of-precinct provisional ballots disproportionately affected African-American voters. And, during the legislature’s consideration of these changes earlier this year, evidence was presented about how some provisions of the bill would adversely affect minority voters. Nonetheless, the General Assembly passed new restrictions that would do just that.
So let me be very clear: today’s action is about far more than unwarranted voter restrictions. It is about our democracy, and who we are as a nation. I stand here to announce this lawsuit more in sorrow than in anger. It pains me to see the voting rights of my fellow citizens negatively impacted by actions predicated on a rationale that is tenuous at best – and on concerns that we all know are not, in fact, real.
To other states considering voting restrictions like North Carolina’s, I want to say this: I and my colleagues at every level of the Justice Department will never hesitate to do all that we must to protect the Constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights of all Americans. I call upon state leaders across the country to pause before they enact measures similar to those at issue in this case. I ask them to think about their solemn duty as lawmakers. And I urge them to consider that, whatever role each of us happens to play – for the times we are honored to serve in public office – we occupy positions of public trust, and must be faithful stewards of this democracy. We must be guided not by short-term partisan goals, but by the historic obligations that have been entrusted to us. And we must reflect upon our duty to the American people, on our own place in history, and on the imperative to act in a manner that is consistent with the best of America.
Today’s action is not the first that the Justice Department has taken to protect voting rights following the Supreme Court’s flawed decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. And I fear that it will not be our last. Earlier this summer, the Department filed two lawsuits against the state of Texas regarding laws that had previously been blocked by federal courts under Section 5. One complaint challenges Congressional and legislative redistricting maps that intentionally discriminated against Latino and African-American citizens. And a second complaint challenges Texas’s restrictive photo identification requirement as racially discriminatory in both purpose and result. Each of these complaints asks courts in Texas to subject the State to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. These actions prove that – whenever warranted by the facts and the law – the Department will not hesitate to use the tools and legal authorities at our disposal to fight against racial discrimination, to stand against disenfranchisement, and to safeguard the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot. All of these cases, including that which I announce today, will be hard fought and difficult. But they must be brought.
We also recognize, however, that case-by-case litigation is no substitute for Congressional action on legislation to fill the void left by the Supreme Court’s decision. President Obama and I remain committed to working with leaders from across the political spectrum to ensure that modern voting protections are adequate to the challenges of the 21st century. We know from our history that advances in civil and voting rights have been hard-won. The progress we’ve seen has not been inevitable. And that’s why we cannot, we must not, and we will not simply stand by as the voices of those disproportionately affected by some of the proposals we’ve seen – including the North Carolina minority communities impacted by the provisions we challenge today – are shut out of the process of self-governance.
In this great country, our progress has always been of our own making. It’s up to each of us to ensure that engagement in the democratic process will always constitute the birthright – and the solemn responsibility – of every American citizen.
I’d like to thank Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuels and all of the dedicated men and women of the Civil Rights Division – along with the U.S. Attorneys who stand with me today – for their work in preparing this filing.
- Source: justice.gov