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North Carolina lawmakers approve controversial election changes

By Faith Karimi and Joe Sutton, CNN
updated 5:27 AM EDT, Fri July 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Republican-dominated House approves the measure Thursday night
  • In two years,11 states have approved laws requiring voters to show ID at voting booths
  • Critics slam it as an effort to disenfranchise the poor, minority and disabled voters

(CNN) -- North Carolina lawmakers passed a measure that requires residents to present photo identification to vote, joining a handful of other states that have approved the controversial proposal.

The Republican-dominated House approved the measure late Thursday night , saying it will help prevent voter fraud. It passed the state's Senate a day earlier.

"A measure that restores confidence in our election process and ensures voters are who they say they are is a no-brainer -- and nearly three-quarters of North Carolinians agree," said Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. "This bill will bring North Carolina in line with the majority of other states that already require voter ID."

In the past two years, at least 11 states have approved laws requiring voters to show identification at voting booths.

'Attacks democracy at its core'

But critics slammed it as an effort to disenfranchise poor, minority and disabled voters

It "attacks democracy at its core" by making it harder for eligible voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said.

"Many of these restrictions, such as eliminating pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds, and disallowing use of college IDs at the polls, will severely discourage young people from participating in elections," the group said in a statement.

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"Others, such as shortening early voting and making it more difficult to set up satellite polling stations will be extremely burdensome for elderly and disabled voters who rely on such methods to cast their votes."

It listed what it described as "harsh provisions" in the measure, including eliminating same-day voter registration, shortening early voting and eliminating state-mandated voter registration drives.

Proponents of the bill say it will stop voter fraud, asserting that having a valid, government-issued photo identification is a reasonable, modern-day necessity.

'Common-sense provision'

A poll this year showed that more than 72% of North Carolina residents support requiring voters to show photo ID before being casting their ballot, according to Berger.

He described it as a "hugely popular, common-sense" provision.

Last month, the Supreme Court voted to halt the enforcement requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required some states with a history of voter discrimination to get "precleared" by the federal government before making any changes to voting laws. North Carolina was among those states.

The high court's ruling essentially allows states to make adjustments to voting laws without "preclearance" from the federal government.

Requests by Texas and Mississippi for clearance in their voter ID laws were pending with the federal government when the high court struck down Section 5.

Federal government steps in

Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday expressed displeasure with last month's change in the Voting Rights Act.

"For nearly five decades, ... preclearance served as a potent tool for addressing inequities in our election systems. Although preclearance originated during the Civil Rights Movement -- and was informed by a history of discrimination -- the conduct that it was intended to address continues to this day," he said.

Holder said he has directed the Justice Department to ask a Texas federal court to subject the state to a condition similar to preclearance rights. He said there is evidence of racial discrimination in the state, and thus it should be forced to go through a federal preapproval before implementing voting changes.

He said this will not be the Justice Department's last action to protect voting tights.

It will continue monitoring jurisdictions nationwide for changes that may hamper these voting rights, Holder said.

States that may wish to implement their voter ID laws may still face another hurdle, as civil rights groups and even the federal government could seek legal action to block the laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, another part of the law that works to prevent discrimination.

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