RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials filed their first official response Monday to two of the three federal court lawsuits that challenge the extensive election-law changes adopted this past summer.
In response to allegations by the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, several voters and other civil rights organizations, attorneys for the governor and state officials dispute plaintiffs’ contentions that the new measures are a blatant attempt to suppress the African-American vote.
The filings offer few details of the legal strategy the attorneys representing the governor and the Republican-led legislature plan to employ in fighting the suits.
They ask for the cases to be dismissed.
Also on Monday, McCrory defended North Carolina’s law at an event in Washington held by the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation.
“I think our voting ID laws – yes, by the national media and even by some of the local media in North Carolina – have been greatly exaggerated, and it’s commonsense reform that protects the integrity of our ballot box,” McCrory said at the foundation’s “A Conversation With a Reformer: How the States Are Leading the Way.”
In response to the state’s filing, Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, an organization behind the NAACP suit, said, “It is telling that, in all 20 pages of North Carolina’s answer to our lawsuit challenging this onerous voter-suppression law, the state not only failed to present anything new, but they also offered no justification for the measure.
“Instead, their response is to simply say that our case should be dismissed, and that we should be sent away,” Hair added in a conference call with reporters.
McCrory signed the election-law revisions in August. Advocates of the changes said the measures, which include a voter ID provision, are necessary to prevent the possibility of voter fraud.
But critics argue the measures are designed to suppress the votes of Democrats in a state where few voter fraud cases have been brought.
IDs and voting days
The ID provision goes into effect for the 2016 elections and requires voters to show valid, government-issued IDs before casting ballots. Student IDs from state universities are not on the list of acceptable forms of identification.
Civil and voting rights advocates also complain about the elimination of seven days of early voting, the elimination of same-day registration during early voting, and the prohibition against counting provisional ballots cast when a voter shows up at the wrong polling place.
Republicans defend the early-voting provision by noting that counties are required to provide the same number of hours for early voting but in a fewer number of days.
Late last month, the U.S. Justice Department sued North Carolina to block the new voting rules, arguing that key provisions of the elections law are “both discriminatory in intent and in impact.”
In Washington on Monday, McCrory echoed a common refrain among advocates of the changes, who argue that other states already have voter ID measures, have little or no early voting, and prohibit same-day registration.
The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, who was on the conference call with Hair, was critical of the governor’s comments.
Barber noted that Colin Powell, a prominent Republican who served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, had offered pointed criticism of North Carolina’s Voter ID law.
And last week, Richard A. Posner, a member of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said he was wrong in 2007 when he wrote a seminal opinion in an Indiana case that supported voter ID.
“(W)e weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disenfranchise people entitled to vote,” Posner, a prolific author and a University of Chicago Law School professor, told the Huffington Post.
‘What can’t be spun’
Barber highlighted Posner’s comments, too, as he took aim at McCrory.
“He’s in front of the Heritage Foundation, not the people of North Carolina, and continuing trying to spin what can’t be spun,” Barber said.
Some legal analysts have argued that the U.S. Justice Department and others face a tough legal hurdle in trying to knock down voting laws. Under one prong of the multipronged challenges, the plaintiffs must show “deliberate” discrimination.
But critics of the new voting measures contend the Republican-led General Assembly had reports and statistics that showed the disproportionate impact the changes would have on African-American voters.
“The legislature was well aware of the impact that this law would have on African-Americans and did nothing to mitigate that impact,” said Hair, the attorney for the Advancement Project.