RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign into law a Republican-backed bill making sweeping changes to how and when citizens can vote even though he has not seen one of its key provisions.
McCrory praised the bill in a news media conference Friday, saying it will restore faith in elections by requiring voters to present government-issued identification at the polls.
An Associated Press reporter asked the Republican governor how three particular provisions of the bill would help prevent voter fraud: ending same-day voter registration, trimming the period for early voting by a week and eliminating a program that encourages high school students to register to vote in advance of their 18th birthdays.
McCrory talked about two other sections of the legislation – a measure added through a Democratic amendment that directs counties to make early voting available for more hours during the abbreviated early voting period, and a provision forbidding lobbyists from passing campaign donations from their clients directly on to lawmakers.
Asked again about the three provisions and how they would prevent voter fraud, McCrory said he had long been concerned about same-day registration, which allows voters to cast a ballot immediately after presenting elections officials with proof of their name and home address.
McCrory said the system had potential for abuse.
“There is plenty of opportunity for voter registration – online, offline, through many methods,” McCrory said. “I thought that was a fair system before and I think it is a fair system now.”
North Carolina has never allowed voters to register online, though they can download a form and print it out. The GOP-backed elections bill tightens restrictions on registration, requiring voters to submit a paper form by mail or in person at least 25 days in advance of a primary or election.
McCrory was then asked specifically about the provision ending pre-registration by those under 18.
“I don’t know enough, I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that part of the bill,” McCrory replied.
Republicans have said the legislation is meant to prevent voter fraud, which they claim is both rampant and undetected. But Democrats and Libertarians suggested the true goal is suppressing voter turnout – especially among blacks, the young, the elderly and the poor.
The bill passed along party lines after hours of emotional debate where Democratic opponents, many of them veterans of the civil rights movement, questioned why Republicans were making it harder to register to vote and cast a ballot.
GOP legislators in North Carolina passed the bill after a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a history of racial discrimination to get prior federal approval before making changes to elections law.
The U.S. Justice Department and civic groups including the NAACP have signaled they may file federal lawsuits under the remaining provisions of the landmark voting act seeking to overturn North Carolina’s new law.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, sent McCrory a letter urging him to veto the bill.
“For years, North Carolina has taken steps that encourage people to vote while maintaining the integrity of the system,” Cooper wrote. “With a veto, you can encourage more people to be involved in the political process, stop this bad public policy, and prevent the confusion and cost of a legal battle.”