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July 27, 2013

Southern states gird for new fight on laws

AUSTIN, Texas — Stricter voter identification laws, redrawn political maps fortifying Republican majorities, reducing early voting: States with GOP strongholds intensified these efforts under President Barack Obama and proclaimed victory at the Supreme Court.

Now the Obama administration is signaling plans to drag some of these mostly Southern states with histories of minority discrimination into rematches after the high court knocked down a major piece of the Voting Rights Act.

First up is Texas, which rushed to enact a tough voter ID law and new redistricting maps after the justices’ 5-4 ruling last month. North Carolina is considered to be another possible target of the administration, and officials in Alabama are also digging their heels in for another possible round with the Justice Department.

Other states also are watching closely.

“You can imagine a very aggressive Justice Department trying to get the bar as low as possible and demanding that states be bailed in” back under former voting rights protections, said Rebecca Green, co-director of the election law program at the College of William & Mary.

Predictions that North Carolina is on deck grew late Thursday after its Legislature sent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory sweeping voting law changes, including the end of a popular program that registers high school students to vote in advance of their 18th birthday.

There’s also a strict voter ID measure, slashing early voting by a week and the elimination of same-day registration. State elections statistics show black voters use early voting in heavy numbers and that more than 300,000 of the state’s residents don’t have a driver’s license, many of them poor and elderly.

North Carolina conservatives call the moves voter integrity safeguards and were confident they will stand.

“I think what we’ve seen over the past several years is the Obama administration politicize the voting rights section in ways we’ve never seen before,” said North Carolina state Sen. Phil Berger, the top Republican in the chamber. “I do not think they are a non-partisan or neutral arbiter.”

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