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ADL Letter to Attorney General Holder on North Carolina Voter Restrictions

Date: August 16, 2013

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

We write to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether North Carolina’s recently-enacted voting law, House Bill (HB) 589, which, among other things, requires government-issued photo identification (voter ID) to vote, makes it easier for partisan poll watchers to challenge eligible voters, and greatly reduces the number of early voting days, complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1973.  We ask DOJ to take legal action to block the law if your investigation confirms, as we believe it will, that the law will have a discriminatory impact on minorities, and to request that the courts require North Carolina to “preclear” its voting laws pursuant to Section 3 of the VRA.

Since the VRA was enacted 47 years ago, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been a strong supporter of DOJ’s implementation efforts.  We regard the VRA as one of the most important and most effective civil rights laws ever passed, and appreciate the impact it has had in eliminating discriminatory barriers to full civic participation for millions of Americans.  There is no question that it has sparked significant advances for equal political participation at all levels of government.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the VRA in June in Shelby County v. Holder, 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties were subject to preclearance requirements pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA.  Less than two months after the decision, North Carolina has enacted one of the harshest, most restrictive voter ID laws in the country to date and has severely limited access to the ballot in other ways. We believe this regressive new law will disproportionately impact minorities and prevent eligible voters from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

There are numerous indications that voter identification requirements have the effect of disenfranchising racial minorities, the elderly, lower income individuals, and young citizens, many of whom do not have current drivers’ licenses, passports or other forms of government-issued photo identification.  A recent report from the North Carolina State Board of Elections found that as many as 613,000 eligible voters in North Carolina do not have photo identification.[1]  North Carolina’s newly-enacted voter ID law will disenfranchise African Americans and elderly voters at a disproportionately high rate.  The Board of Elections’ report found that, while African American voters make up 22 percent of the State’s population, they represent 30 percent of those who do not have proper photo ID.  Similarly, approximately 13 percent of North Carolinians are 65 or older, but 25 percent of those lacking photo ID are elderly.  

Those findings are in line with national studies about the impact of voter ID on citizens’ ability to vote.  A 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 25 percent of African American voting age citizens do not have government-issued photo ID, compared with only 8 percent of white voting age citizens.[2]  Similarly, 18 percent of citizens 65 and over, and 15 percent of voters earning under $35,000 per year do not have government-issued photo identification.  Moreover, as many as 18 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 do not have photo identification that shows their current address and name.  Additionally, many citizens who lack photo ID do not have the underlying documents required to obtain photo identification, such as a birth certificate or certificate of naturalization. 

Other provisions of this troubling bill also threaten to disenfranchise minority voters.  HB 589 expands the number of partisan “observers” who may be at the polls on Election Day.  History shows that partisan poll watchers ostensibly guarding against voter fraud too often target precincts with high numbers of minority voters, becoming vigilantes who intimidate eligible minority voters.  For example, lists from 2012 show that a Pittsburgh poll watching group targeted precincts where nearly 80 percent of registered voters were African American.[3]  Similarly, poll watching groups in Ohio primarily targeted precincts with high percentages of minority voters, and there were allegations of minority voter intimidation by partisan poll watchers in Texas.[4]  North Carolina’s new law expanding partisan poll watching threatens to endanger minorities’ ability to vote freely, without intimidation.

In addition, HB 589 significantly curtails early voting days.  Estimates show that in North Carolina, more than 70 percent of people who vote early are African American, Latino, women or young voters.[5] Approximately seven in ten African American voters in North Carolina utilize early voting and cast a ballot before

Election Day.  By slashing early voting from 17 to 10 days, the new bill will disproportionately impact the State’s minority voters.

Before the passage of the VRA in 1965, Southern states passed any number of laws aimed at disenfranchising minority voters, from poll taxes to literacy tests, consistently passing new laws when the courts struck down others.  In South Carolina v. Katzenbach the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the VRA, describing the efforts to disenfranchise minority voters as “an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.” 

To be sure, the United States and North Carolina are very different today than they were 50 years ago.  Yet almost immediately after the Supreme Court struck down large parts of the VRA, North Carolina passed one of the most sweeping, invidious voting laws to date.  We urge the DOJ to take action not only to block this law with Section 2 of the VRA, but to request that the courts require North Carolina to preclear future voting laws pursuant to Section 3.

We strongly welcomed and applauded your decision to seek a preclearance requirement for Texas pursuant to Section 3 of the VRA, and your pledge to use "every tool at [your] disposal to stand against discrimination wherever it is found."

We hope that you will similarly decide to seek a preclearance requirement for North Carolina.  We stand ready to work with you on this crucial endeavor, complementing the Department’s efforts by using the tools at our disposal to restore the right to vote to every eligible American.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director

Deborah M. Lauter
Director, Civil Rights



[1] 2013 SBOE-DMV ID Analysis, North Carolina Board of Elections (Jan. 7, 2013).

[2] Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans’ Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (November 2006), available at http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/d/download_file_39242.pdf.

[3] Dan Froomkin, New Evidence Shows Poll Watching Efforts Target Minority Precincts, Huff Post Politics (Nov. 5, 2012), available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/poll-watching_n_2078563.html.

[4] Dan Harris and Melia Patria, Is True the Vote Intimidating Minority Voters from Going to the Polls?, ABC News Nightline (Nov. 2, 2012).

[5] Peter Hamby, Micro-Targeting Offers Clues to Early Vote Leads, CNN Politics (Oct. 26, 2012).

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