After Voting Rights Act ruling, states tighten voting laws

People queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Washington,DC on November 6, 2012. Americans head to the polls after a burst of last-minute campaigning by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a nail-biting contest unlikely to heal a deeply polarized nation. After a long, expensive and fiercely negative campaign, voters will decide whether to re-elect Obama despite the plodding economy or hand the reins to Romney, who has vowed a return to prosperity through smaller government. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty

The North Carolina state legislature on Thursday night passed a series of strict voting rules, making it the latest state to take advantage of the Supreme Court's ruling weakening the Voting Rights Act.

The new measures require voters to present a government-issued ID at the polls, even though the state estimates more than 300,000 registered voters in North Carolina -- most of them elderly or low-income minorities -- don't have government-issued IDs. The new rules also shorten early voting by a week, end same-day registration and end straight-ticket voting -- rules that would hurt Democrats more than Republicans, statistics suggest.

The new rules now go to Gov. Pat McCrory, R-N.C., to be signed into law, even though they may invite legal challenges.

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, North Carolina was one of a handful of states with a history of racial discrimination that were required to have any changes to their voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department the D.C. federal court. Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the government's rules for determining which states should be subject to "pre-clearance" were unconstitutional. That means until Congress updates those rules, states no longer have to get pre-clearance for new voting laws.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, five other states previously covered by the Voting Rights Act pre-clearance rule, in addition to North Carolina, have moved forward with new voter ID requirements.

While it is no longer pre-approving laws, the Justice Department can still monitor voting laws and file suit against laws it considers discriminatory. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday suggested he could make such a move against North Carolina or other states with strict voting laws.

"Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court's ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law's remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected," Holder said.

Holder also announced that the Justice Department is asking a federal court to keep Texas under the "pre-clearance" requirement, in response to evidence of intentional racial discrimination that came up last year in a Texas redistricting case.

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