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North Carolina's voter ID laws: fraud-fighting or racist? (+video)

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Chris Seward/The News & Observer/AP/File

(Read caption) The Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, left, listens as one of the lead attorneys, Penda Hair, speaks as they announce that the group is filing a lawsuit against the recently passed Voter ID bill during a press conference held in Durham, NC on Aug. 13, 2013.

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A series of controversial North Carolina election reforms will go before federal court Monday. What Republican legislators see as necessary measures to prevent voter fraud, other groups see as a masked strategy to whitewash the voting pool.

The laws stiffen photo ID requirements and restrict early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration for minors, and out-of-district voting policies. Opponents, with the support of the Department of Justice, say these policies unfairly target black and Latino voters, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates, Reuters reported.

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For Republicans in favor of the laws, the movement to address voter fraud took hold when data was released showing that more than 35,000 people may have “double-voted,” or voted in both North Carolina and some other state, in 2012. The data tracked instances of voters registered in multiple states with the same name and birthday.

“The massive potential voter fraud in North Carolina revealed today represents a significant threat to the integrity of our elections process,” North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope said in a statement at the time of the data’s release. “Governor McCrory, Senate Leader Berger, Speaker Tillis and Republicans in the General Assembly should be applauded for passing North Carolina’s commonsense voter ID law and working to protect the integrity of the ballot box.”

However, analysis by election scholar Justin Levitt and political scientist Michael McDonald calls into question the conflation of the data with voter fraud. Their study challenged the initial claims by demonstrating the surprising likelihood of two people having the same name and birthday. Election experts also pointed to the high frequency of clerical errors in polling data, according to MSNBC.

“I would be very interested indeed in how many of the 35K alleged double voters are the results of mistakes or mistaken assumptions,” Mr. Levitt wrote in an email to a group of election lawyers last year, according to MSNBC. “I’m going to bet on the vast majority evaporating upon closer scrutiny.”

Levitt argued in a Washington Post editorial that, on top of the fact that little concrete proof exists to indicate a problem with voter fraud, laws like the ones North Carolina Republicans are defending – specifically, photo ID laws – would not target the types of fraud most likely to occur.

“Requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot,” Levitt wrote. "This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.”

The NAACP, who is bringing the case against North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) along with the League of Women Voters and the Department of Justice, argues that African American voters make up a disproportionate percentage of voters without photo ID and who register on election day or vote outside their district, and thus would, as a group, be seriously disenfranchised by the state’s laws.

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In a statement encouraging people to march Monday for the rejection of the voting laws, the NAACP referred to the famous 1965 civil rights march saying, “This is our Selma.”

State data shows African Americans make up 23 percent of North Carolina voters, but 34 percent of voters without state photo ID. NAACP data puts the percentage of African American voters at 22 percent, but says they “made up 41 percent of voters who used same-day registration, and cast out-of-precinct ballots at twice the rate of White voters.”

A 2013 Supreme Court decision paved the way for North Carolina’s voting laws and similar ones in states like Texas and Florida. The Court struck down a Voting Rights Act provision that made sure the Department of Justice had final say over voting law revisions in districts with histories of discrimination.